Neal Bharadwaj founded a Fremont nonprofit organization to help local youth when he was just 15, but he shrugs off any praise about the accomplishment, saying he just was following the generous example his parents set.

"They taught us to give back, especially when there are so many people who could use the help," said Bharadwaj, now 24.

Nearly a decade later, he's still following his parents' model, and his organization, Matters of Community, is going strong. It provides music, art, theater and sports programs to improve the education of special needs children, including those with learning disorders, and physical and mental disabilities.

Bharadwaj got the idea in 2004 when -- as a 10th-grader at Fremont's Washington High School -- he was volunteering at Jeena, a Milpitas nonprofit dedicated to helping parents and children with developmental disorders. There, he was teaching students bhangra, a form of Indian folk dance, and, as they began performing together at Bay Area venues, he had a burst of inspiration.

"I saw how much the students wanted to be onstage; it was eye-opening for me," he said. "Special needs students often are put to the side and I saw how art can break those barriers for them. They can perform as well as anyone else."

Bharadwaj said he graduated two years ago from UC Merced with a bachelor's degree in bioengineering and now works as a stem cell researcher at Stanford University School of Medicine. In spite of his busy schedule, he has continued to lead Matters of Community, helping Tri-City-area students by partnering with Jeena and other organizations, such as the Niles Canyon Challenger Little League and the Jazzinators, a Dixieland band consisting of Fremont Unified School District students.

The nonprofit also has contributed to the Blind Relief Association in New Delhi, India, by donating funds to help renovate its music facilities, said Bharadwaj, a Fremont resident.

The community has taken notice. Matters of Community recently was nominated in the best nonprofit category of the Silicon Valley Awards, a first-of-its-kind ceremony held in November to honor local businesses and charities.

To help the charity continue its good work, Bharadwaj has scheduled a dinner dance Saturday to raise funds for its programs. The fundraiser will begin at 7 p.m. Saturday at Golden Peacock Banquet Hall, at 24989 Santa Clara St. in Hayward. For more information, go to http://mattersofcommunity.org.

Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.

If You GO
WHAT: Dinner dance fundraiser
HOST: Matters of Community, a nonprofit group helping special needs students
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Golden Peacock Banquet Hall, 24989 Santa Clara St., Hayward
INFO: http://mattersofcommunity.org