Learn, Love, Legislate
I got my first opportunity to implement my three-point on Tuesday, February 6th.
On that day, my mom and I drove down to Salem first thing in the morning. It took us quite a while to get there, because there was a protest with a thousand trucks driving right in front of the capitol building, and this made traffic very congested. As soon as we arrived at the State Archives building, we were greeted by Mary Beth and she told us the plan for that day. She told us that we will be meeting with the Department of Housing and Community Services to learn about all that the state does for the homeless. Then we were going to Malabon Elementary School in Eugene next to share the importance of spreading our love for the homeless. Finally, we would be meeting with a Representative to know how best to influence our lawmakers to legislate laws that help the homeless. I was so excited about all the learn-love-legislate that I would get to do that day!
Meeting with the Department of Housing and Community Services:
To get to the Department of Housing and Community Services, we only had to walk a block or two, from the State Archives building, where we had parked our car. Once inside, we met with Nicole and Kenny.
They told us how they use money from the government to fund various activities that benefit the homeless. This was just perfect, because I got to learn about what these housing associations do with the money, and how they plan to help the homeless have a better life. They told me that homelessness is the most in rural areas, where there are not too many employment opportunities. I learned that homelessness becomes even more challenging for people with diabetes or other health conditions that need medicine stored in the fridge. They live out on the street through the summer heat and the winter cold and they don’t have refrigerators to store their medicine!
My visit to the Department of Housing and Community Services was very fruitful as I learned so much! They even invited me to an event on March 4th, where all the organizations that help the homeless, come together, and share their ideas about how to help the homeless. I am planning on attending the event; it means that I get to learn even more about homelessness!
Visiting Malabon Elementary School
We took leave of Kenny and Nicole and headed straight to Mary Beth’s car. She drove us to Malabon Elementary School down in Eugene. The drive was so beautiful with lush green landscape all around us!
When we arrived at the school, we checked-in and waited in the school library for the students to arrive. Once the assembly started, I got to introduce myself to the 4th and 5th graders at their school.
The students asked me a ton of questions! “What had I done so far as the Kid Governor? Is it fun being Oregon’s Kid Governor? For that question, I told them an emphatic “yes”. Of course it’s a lot of fun, the best part about it is that I get to meet many new people like all these students! One student asked me what language I teach on the weekends- he remembered it from my campaign video! I was so impressed! I taught them how to say “My name is Raaga” in Telugu language. One of the fourth grade classes there actually made paper homes and decorated them with furniture and accessories. They were all so thoughtful with their decorations!
As we were heading out of the library, where this assembly was held, I overheard someone say, “I don’t like my house”. This made me feel very sad. I was later informed that the neighborhoods around this school experience a lot of poverty, with many families on the verge of becoming homeless. Throughout the drive back up to Salem, I kept thinking about how lucky I was to have a roof over my head, and the warm food to eat every day. It made me realize the importance of being kind to the homeless, spreading our love is the least we can do!
Meeting with Rep. Helms
After we got back to Salem, we went to the Capitol for our final meeting of the day. The building is divided distinctly into the Senate side, where my inauguration ceremony took place on January 8th, and the Representatives side which is where we headed to meet Representative Ken Helms. While we were waiting, I looked around his office area – there were pictures of people with fish everywhere! Seeing an entire wall filled with pictures of fish made me laugh out loud! I also found a box of crayons and some printer paper at his office. I started drawing- a fish, of course! Soon, representative Helms’s secretary ushered us inside as Rep. Helms was ready to meet with us. When we got inside, I noticed right off the bat that Rep. Helms was wearing a fish tie! And a fish ring on his finger! He sure had an obsession for fish!
After I introduced myself to him, I asked him some questions to help with the “legislate” part of my campaign. I asked him what makes a good letter to our legislators, because I wanted to make sure that, when fifth graders write to legislators, their ideas are taken seriously. He said that the best letter one could write to the legislators is one that describes personal experiences first hand. He asked me about my three point plan. By now, I have mastered conveying my three point plan to everyone, and I had no issues explaining it to him, :). I even asked him what tips he has for me to become an effective Kid Governor. I felt happy to hear him say that I just need to continue to speak with the same confidence and passion for my platform as I had that day. It truly made me realize that, when we fifth graders care about something deeply, we CAN make the change we desire!
It was a great first day of Learn-Love-Legislate! Eagerly looking forward to many more!
What’s on the horizon?
Here’s what’s coming up next for me:
- Attend the meeting with all the homeless organizations, on March 4th, in Woodburn- Learn
- Work with the housing association and Mary Beth Herkert, put a lesson plan together to teach fifth graders about homelessness- Learn
- Work with my cabinet members and get the kindness clubs going across the state- Love
- Meeting with City of Newberg on February 20th and spread awareness about Kid Governor program and my three point plan
- Spend time with fifth graders in other schools, and motivate them to make their voices heard by writing letters to their legislators- Legislate
There is so much I am looking forward to doing! There is so much more that I want to accomplish! I can hardly wait!
The first event I got to attend as Oregon’s Kid Governor, was the newsmakers award night hosted by the Royal Rosarians of Portland on January 30th, 2020. It is an event where Royal Rosarians honor some of the past year’s heroes and heroines in our community. I was very excited when I heard that KPTV sponsored me to be the newsmaker of the year for their channel!
On the night of the event, one of my mom’s friends did my hair and my grandma gave me a pretty necklace to wear. I arrived at the Double-Tree hotel with my parents, all dressed up! One of the Rosarians, Mrs. Mary Getty, is actually one of the 5th grade teachers at my school! She escorted us to our table, where we were joined by Mary Beth and Debra Gill from KPTV. Our school district superintendent, Mr. Grotting, our principal, Ms. McFadden and vice-principal, Ms. Heslin, were all at a table next to us and stopped by our table to show me their support! We enjoyed a nice dinner- the chocolate cake dessert was my favorite!
After the dinner, the Rosarians announced the newsmaker award recipients. There was a pediatric nurse that helped make boxes of love for babies that go to foster care. There was a couple that helped their neighbor in a wheelchair get out of their burning home. There was a couple that spread awareness for suicide prevention with their signs of hope. Every single newsmaker’s story was inspiring!
Soon, it was my turn. First, KPTV’s Debra Gill went up to the stage and introduced me to the audience. She played the KPTV news clip on the screen that was aired on the night I was announced as Oregon’s Kid Governor. Then, it was time for me to head to the stage and answer a few questions Debra had for me. The prime minister of Royal Rosarians then presented me with the Newsmaker medal and certificate.
I felt very fortunate to share the stage with some of the most incredible community members that night and receive such wonderful recognition.
Radio shows are interesting! One does not see any audience, and more importantly, nobody sees us! I had done a few live radio shows with my Telugu language school, and they had such casual vibe to them. I always felt as if I was simply talking to a friend on the phone.
When Mary Beth told me that Jefferson Public Radio would like to interview me on radio, the first thing that came to my mind was that I would have to miss my 7:45am choir practice. I really don’t like missing school! However, I see my mom listening to NPR every morning and I was excited for this unique opportunity to be ON public radio, myself!
For my Telugu radio shows, I typically prepare my script, practice several times, especially if I am hosting very young students from our school. The best part about the Jefferson Exchange show was that it is in English, of course, and it needed absolutely no preparation as I would be talking about my passion for cooking and ending homelessness, and my own experiences!
We do not have a landline at our home and we were told that landline works best for radio shows. Our next door neighbors graciously allowed us to use their phone that morning, so we headed over there bright and early. At 8:30am, right on the dot, Mr. Geoffrey Riley of Jefferson Exchange, called me. Mary Beth was already on the line as well. From that point on, we just talked and the next 25 minutes just flew by! Click this link for the recording of the entire interview.
The host, Mr.Riley, was so easy to talk to! He managed the interview so smoothly, moving back and forth between me and Mary Beth, and making the whole content easy for the audience to follow! These radio hosts are so good at their job! No wonder when my mom heard about Erikka Baldwin’s inauguration on the radio last year, she felt connected strongly enough to come home and tell me about it! I hope that after this show, a few other students will be inspired to help their communities and campaign to become Kid Governors in the coming years!
December 16th is my parents’ wedding anniversary! We usually go out for dinner to celebrate but my little sister Taara goes to bed pretty early so we had a quick celebration at home that evening.
December 16th, 2019, was also a special occasion for me because that evening, I got to attend Beaverton School District business meeting! When I arrived there with my mom, I saw district superintendent, Mr. Grotting fondly holding a little baby that looked to be the same age as Taara! Someone later told us that he was simply holding someone’s baby while his mother was participating in the meeting that evening. It was very cute to see Mr. Grotting going the extra mile, :).
The meeting started with the pledge of allegiance, which I was excited to lead! It felt awesome to begin the proceedings of a meeting attended by my school district board members, educators, and my school principal! Board member, Ms. Ann Bryan, introduced me to everyone and briefly described about my winning the Kid Governor elections. I then had the opportunity to give a speech during which I shared my background: what inspired me to host fundraisers and help the homeless and how I became Kid Governor. Click this link for my speech at that event.
Superintendent, Mr. Grotting and Board Chair, Mrs. Becky Tymchuk, presented me with a certificate and congratulated me for my accomplishment. I left the meeting feeling proud and motivated to continue to make my school board proud with my academic, civic, and philanthropic endeavors throughout my school years.
It was during holidays and I had just gotten done with a playdate with my friends. My mom mentioned that I had to make a phone call. Jake Thomas, a reporter from the Salem Reporter newspaper wanted to talk with me about Kid Governor. He was doing an article on Civics Education and had already talked with Mary Beth Herkert about it. It was a quick call, Mr. Thomas asked me about Civics education and when I first learnt how the government works. He asked me why I decided to run for Kid Governor. I was not completely sure how these questions were useful to his article but I answered anyway.
A few days later, when my mom showed me his article, I realized the intention behind his questions and the importance of this topic.
Denise Castañon, editor at “PDX Parent”, was one of the first from the media to approach me for information on my Kid Governor election. She had three questions for me and I just had to write my answers and send it back. We are doing a ton of opinion writing and narratives at school so this one was pretty breezy for me. I just sat down after dinner and wrote my answers down. I figured my handwriting isn’t the best, :), so I had the answers typed up too.
- How did you feel when you found out you’d won the election?
I was very happy and surprised as I did not expect it to be this big. I also felt honored that I got such a great opportunity.
- What made you so passionate about ending homelessness?
I think it happened gradually, over the last year and half. At first, I was just learning to cook from my mom and made some YouTube Videos of my cooking. Then, around my school’s Jogathon fundraiser, instead of lemonade stands or cookie sales, I decided to raise money making dosas (Indian savory crepes). I even gave a name to my service, RFK- Raaga’s Fun Kitchen. Seeing how much I was enjoying cooking, my mom took me to a homeless shelter with an institution called Chetana Foundation- they cook and serve food to the homeless every Sunday. Before going there, I used to be really scared of such places. But it made me feel good to see how happy the people at the shelter were with our food. Later, my mom told me about JOIN and how they go beyond simply providing a meal and how they help transition the homeless into permanent housing. We even went and visited JOIN in Portland. Since then, I really felt connected to their mission. I have hosted four fundraisers for JOIN so far.
- Tell me a little more about the cooking fundraisers you’ve held to raise money for a homeless shelter? What did you cook, who else helped you? Where did you sell the food?
My parents are from South India and my mom is the one that taught me how to cook. So I mostly cook Indian food. I love making desserts like Carrot Laddu, Gulab Jamun, and Ras Malai. I have also made appetizers like samosas and vadas and sides like Dal Makhani and Butter Chicken. My parents help plan the menu and let their friends and coworkers know about it. My mom helps with grocery shopping and figuring out how much to cook. I research the recipes online. We have a kitchen in our backyard and that is where we cook. We don’t have any official license to cook in our kitchen. So we don’t publicly advertise our fundraisers and just invite friends. We had done fundraisers where people ate in our backyard. We also had lunch boxes to go that people came to pick up. My mom made a Facebook page too for RFK, you should check it out. 🙂
A few weeks later, one of my mom’s friends sent her a picture from her copy of PDX Parent magazine. It is so interesting to see my responses stitched together and made into a magazine article!
A few days after I submitted my campaign video, we got a message from Mary Beth Herkert that my video made it to the top seven. During the voting week, I was excited to watch not only my video but also the campaign videos of all the other six finalists with my classmates at school. As we watched all the videos, we analyzed the pros and cons of each and cast our vote for the one we thought was the best. I knew I had a campaign plan that was sincere, passionate, and easy for fifth graders to follow. However, I also liked the campaign videos of many of the other finalists- Ben who advocated for Parks that were inclusive of children with disabilities, Akshara with her campaign against plastic pollution, Bella advocating for kindness were all very impressive. I just hoped for the best and waited patiently for the results.
The day of results, November 18th, came and went and there was no mention of the outcome. I began to assume that perhaps another candidate won the most votes and left it at that. Wednesday, November 20th, started as any other day. I went to school and was still settling down when my teacher, Mrs. Brundidge announced to the class that there was a surprise assembly that morning for 3rd-5th graders.
When we all walked to the cafeteria and sat down at the assembly, certain things felt different. For starters, there were media people there with their giant cameras- a first for me at our school. The second thing that felt different was- my abacus teacher, Miwako Sensei, was seated there. I assumed that she was there to give a presentation about the benefits of using abacus. But then, I saw my parents, my little sister Taara, who was supposed to be at her daycare, and my friend, Mahathi, who was supposed to be in Middle School, all seated along the sidelines!
Before I could process it all, Erikka Baldwin, Oregon’s Kid Governor 2019, announced the results of the election and that I was going to be Oregon’s next Kid Governor!
Mary Beth explained to everyone about the Kid Governor program. Deputy Secretary of State, Rich Vial, spoke about the importance of kids learning about their civic duties at a young age. My teacher, Mrs. Brundidge, had some amazing things to say about how deserving I was to receive this award! I later talked to the press and answered their questions. After I clicked some pictures with my family, Mary Beth, Mr. Vial, and previous Kid Governors, Dom and Erikka. I signed some paperwork and returned to my classroom.
I felt very proud of myself and grateful for the opportunities that I had to be able to come this far. That day, I was still beginning to understand what this all meant, but I knew that an exciting year lay ahead of me. It was the day I realized that even fifth graders can be in a position of making a positive change to the community, if they truly believed in themselves.
To become Oregon’s Kid Governor, fifth graders need to think of a community issue, and make a video outlining their three-point plan to help with their issue. These videos are reviewed independently by a panel of judges appointed by the Kid Governor Program at the Secretary of State’s office. The top seven videos from across the state are be selected as finalists. Fifth graders from across the state watch these final videos in their classrooms and vote for their favorite video. The finalist with most votes across the state is elected as the Kid Governor.
Given my interest in helping the homeless, I chose my campaign platform to be homelessness. To help transition the homeless into permanent housing, I put together a three point plan, Learn-Love-Legislate.
The first L, Learn, means that I want to spread awareness, and make people understand what homelessness means. I would like to put a social studies lesson plan together to help fifth graders Learn about this issue.
The second L, Love, means to spread our kindness. Often the homeless are treated with disrespect. I believe that everyone deserves to live with respect and dignity. I propose to create kindness clubs in every school, and within those clubs, we will hold food drives, clothes and supply drives, and much more. If nothing else, even a simple smile can show our Love and brighten their day!
The final L, Legislate, is to write to our Legislators, and make our voices heard. I would encourage fifth graders to write to our legislators, to help legislate the laws that can end homelessness.
Of course, I couldn’t have made the campaign video by myself. I sat with my mom and prepared my speech to effectively communicate my idea. I talked to people at Transition projects and at Chetana Foundation, and got feedback on what can be done to help the homeless. I worked with Sophie Jaggi at JOIN, and tried to get an understanding of how the organization operates, how their day space gets utilized, and where they need most help with.
Last but not the least, I got the help of my friend from language school, Sushil Vemuri, now a junior in high school. Sushil spent many hours driving with us to JOIN Portland and late into the evening to help put my video together! Here is the link to the campaign video I submitted for consideration for Oregon’s Kid Governor election.
It all started two summers ago, when we were driving home from breakfast. We saw a homeless man on the street as we stopped at a traffic light. We had just gotten a smoothie to go that we hadn’t drunk from yet, and my mom wanted to give it to him. I didn’t think that was such a good idea and tried to not even look at that man. I was scared that he would do something to us. My mom rolled down the window and gave him the smoothie. He looked so happy and grateful! From then on, I was not scared whenever I saw a homeless person on the sidewalk or road!
A few weeks later, I went to volunteer at a homeless shelter with a local organization, Chetana Foundation. That experience further helped me in changing my perspective towards homelessness. I really wanted to do my bit to help the homeless!
Just around that time, we heard on radio that the CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, donated a large sum of money to JOIN Portland, an organization that helps the homeless transition into permanent housing. It prompted me to learn about JOIN and felt immediately connected to their mission.
I love cooking and I decided to do my bit to help end homelessness using my cooking endeavor, Raaga’s Fun Kitchen. I hosted fundraisers where I raised money with my cooking and donated the proceeds to JOIN. The fundraisers were very successful. I was having a lot of fun doing what I like, and I was helping the homeless too!
In December 2018, my mom heard an interview on the radio from the last Kid Governor, Erikka Baldwin. When my mom shared the news about the Kid Governor Program with me, I knew it would give me an even more amazing opportunity to spread the word about homelessness, beyond my cooking endeavor. I immediately decided to campaign to become Oregon’s Kid Governor.
My name is Raaga Mandala and I am a fifth grader at Jacob Wismer Elementary School. On January 8th, 2020, I was inaugurated as Oregon’s Kid Governor at Oregon’s Capitol Building in Salem.
My entire fifth grade class, my teacher, school principal, and vice-principal were in attendance that day. My grandparents flew in from India, and my uncle from California, specifically for this occasion! Secretary of State, Bev Clarno, welcomed everyone to the ceremony. Boy Scout Troop 150 from West Salem presented the colors and led the pledge of allegiance. My friends, Swathi, Annika and Tripthi, sang the national anthem. Deputy Secretary of State, Rich Vial, did the invocation. Governor’s legal counsel, Misha Isaak, Representative Courtney Neron, and Chief Judge of Court of Appeals, James Egan, explained to us about the three branches of government- The Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches, respectively.
Mary Beth Herkert introduced everyone to the Kid Government program and how it started in Oregon, three years ago, with the intention of imparting Civics education to children. She then introduced the seven finalists from the 2020 Kid Governor elections and recognized them for their leadership and community service. Erikka Baldwin, Oregon’s Kid Governor for the year 2019, talked about her experience of and accomplishments during her one year term.
It was at that point that the retired Chief Justice of Oregon’s Supreme Court, Paul J. De Muniz, led me in taking the oath of office. My parents and grandparents were there standing next to me. I had my left hand on the holy Hindu scripture, Bhagvad Gita, that my dad held in his hands. I raised my right hand, followed Chief Justice De Muniz’s instructions, and I made the official promise to faithfully discharge my duties as Oregon’s Kid Governor, to the best of my ability. I felt pride, and an even bigger sense of responsibility as I delivered my first speech as Oregon’s Kid Governor.
So, what did the path look like for my journey from being an ordinary school girl to becoming Oregon’s Kid Governor? Becoming a change maker is actually easier than you think!