From India to H Street, Country Day students are giving back to varied communities. Their charities differ from a fully fledged organization raising $80,000 a year to an organization in the beginning stages of development.
Lara Kong, On Broadway
Senior Lara Kong started her charity, On Broadway, in 2010 with a simple mission: to allow underprivileged kids the opportunity to experience musical theater.
“As a child, I loved musical theater,” Kong said.
“So I was always confused why I was the only person under 80 that was sitting in the audience.”
On Broadway started by sponsoring 10 Breakthrough students’ trip to the California Musical Theatre’s production of “Wicked.”
“At first, I was set on sending 10 students to the theater,” Kong said.
Kong began to solicit funds from family and friends soon after, and had enough money left over to sponsor other groups.
Since Kong’s freshman year, her charity has sponsored groups from Breakthrough to the Boys and Girls Club of Sacramento to Shriners Children’s Hospital and sent over 400 students to the theater.
In addition, Kong was able to include underprivileged adult groups like the Wellspring Women’s Center, Sacramento Food Bank and the Rancho Cordova Police Activities League.
Kong’s donation goal for the 2014-15 season is $100,000; she raised $80,000 last year.
While donations at first were strictly from Kong’s family and friends, the general public began donating small amounts of money after a Sacramento Bee article about her project appeared.
Sophomore Maryjane Garcia was a beneficiary of On Broadway’s work.
“I was very thankful for the opportunity it gave me to see the plays,” Garcia said.
“I was glad when it was mentioned at the community meeting at Breakthrough, and I hope that future Breakthrough students will get to enjoy and be as entertained as I was.”
Kong recently won the Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy Award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Violet Richardson Soroptimist Group Award from the Soroptimist Women’s Organization.
She received $1,000 from the Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy Award and $750 from the Violet Richardson award.
She is currently fundraising for the 2015-16 theatrical season, although this season may prove to be the last for On Broadway.
“It would be a lot harder to pull off with me at college,” Kong said.
Aishwarya Nadgauda, Cognitive Exchange
While Kong’s charity has been in full swing for four years now, senior Aishwarya Nadgauda’s charity, Cognitive Exchange, is still in its first active year.
Cognitive Exchange is a organization that teaches eight-week public speaking courses over GoToMeeting, a video conferencing application similar to Skype.
The curriculum Nadgauda invented covers speechwriting from the very beginning stages (parts of speech are the first lesson) to the final presentation, when students give their own speeches from memory.
Cognitive Exchange pairs the classes in India with student teachers in Sacramento. The core group of teachers currently consists of three students from Mira Loma High School and Nadgauda.
Beginning in one school in the state of Maharashtra, Nadgauda’s family’s home state, Cognitive Exchange will have expanded to four schools, reaching out to about 75 students, by December.
Nadgauda wants to create a Country Day satellite club, another group of student instructors teaching the Cognitive Exchange curriculum, to expand the organization to other schools in India faster.
Cognitive Exchange is currently facing scaling difficulties, as all teachers are high-school students in America. Nadgauda says that the group can teach only 25 students at a time.
When Nadgauda and her fellow teachers were first building their curriculum, they planned to model it after the National Forensics League Forum and include Lincoln-Douglas style debate and impromptu speeches.
“But those skills just really aren’t that applicable to everyday life, as much as pure public speaking,” Nadgauda said.
While Nadgauda’s teaching requires over eight hours of work a week, including two hour-long live lessons with the students, seeing her students grow in ability makes it all worth it, she said.
“I saw my students go from super quiet that first day to super-persuasive, captivating speakers,” Nadgauda said. “At the beginning, they were tripping over uncomplicated words and not giving us eye contact, but by the last day, they had so much poise and confidence.”
Akshay Mirajkar, a student of Cognitive Exchange, said that the experience deeply affected him. “Now I am confident and adequate with spoken English,” Mirajkar wrote.
“Things are changing in India. If you have a lack of knowledge in English, you will lose in a head-to-head competition. But I have so many skills in cognitive exchange now, thanks to the program.”
Jag Lally, New Hope
Junior Jag Lally’s charity also is centered in India, but is still in a nascent stage.
When Lally went to India last summer, he was shocked by the appalling inequality.
“No one does anything about it,” Lally said.
“It’s like Beverly Hills and Compton right next to each other, but the idea of charity just isn’t there.”
So Lally founded New Hope Incorporated, a nonprofit organization whose aim is to give food to the homeless, correct vision with aid from doctors, provide basic medical needs and give clean sources of water to the disadvantaged in India.
After months of fundraising, Lally has collected over $8,000 from family and friends. Lally also set up a booth at the annual Yuba City Sikh Parade, and New Hope’s website will launch next month.
Lally plans to go to the city of Ludhiana in Punjab state next summer to begin dispersing the money and will start a Country Day club after he speaks at a Leadership Lunch on Dec. 3.
Although this will be Lally’s first charity project, he isn’t the first in his family to have one.
Lally’s family in India has run charities in the past, including taking charge of upkeep for the Golden Temple, a famous Sikh cultural site, in Amritsar, Punjab. In addition, Lally’s family has built two hospitals in Amritsar and Chandigarh, Punjab.
“I am carrying the torch, so to speak,” Lally said.
Previously published in the print edition on Nov. 25, 2014.