Fundraiser for JOIN: Hullabaloo

Dear RFK Friends, (RFK = Raaga’s Fun Kitchen)

Homelessness. Living on the streets. Or in a car. Or off of someone’s couch or basement, knowing that they may lose the roof over their head, any day. JOIN Portland is an organization committed to addressing homelessness by transitioning them into permanent housing. They are hosting their annual fundraiser, Hullabaloo, this month.

Homelessness is not easy under normal circumstances. Add in extreme weather and wildfires, social unrest, and a once in a century pandemic, things get untenable for our most vulnerable neighbors. Times of devastation like this reaffirm and remind me why I am passionate about fundraising, to end homelessness. I made it my goal to raise at least $1000 for JOIN’s Hullabaloo. As a token of my appreciation for your donations and support, I will be delivering you an RFK special lunch on the weekend of 09/26.

Here’s the link to donate to this cause: (Company matching available from most local employers)
https://www.classy.org/team/312054

If you would like to fundraise on your own for this great cause, please join my team- Raaga’s Fun Kitchen– on Join’s fundraising page! Please reach out to me for more information on how to do that! Please donate generously, and help the homeless lead a life of safety, dignity and respect during these testing times. Thanks for your time!

Sincerely,
Raaga Mandala

Trip to New York!

Raaga at her laptop to join a zoom sessionSocial isolation can be very boring, right? Imagine if you could travel across the country and meet some new people, while staying safe and in quarantine. Well, we all know that that’s not possible! However, on Friday, May 1st, I got to do just that! I had the amazing opportunity to call into the zoom session of a Fifth grade class of Lorraine Elementary in Buffalo, New York, and talk about my experience of being Oregon’s Kid Governor. It definitely is a silver lining of the pandemic. If it weren’t for COVID-19, such an adventure would not even cross my mind!

screen capture of participants in zoom session with RaagaIt was really nice of Ms.Costanzo, the fifth grade teacher to invite me to talk to her class. It was a special occasion, because Mary Beth Herkert grew up in Buffalo, and she and Ms. Costanzo had known each other practically since birth. Ms Costanzo was very warm and welcoming. The students in her class were just like any other fifth graders doing online lessons- asking questions, goofing around, and going about their day.

Ms Costanzo showed her class my campaign video, and then let me introduce myself. I gave a brief description of how I heard about the kid governor program, what it takes to become one, and what I have been doing in my role as kid governor, especially during these unprecedented quarantine times.

Later on, the school principal, Mr Banks, also joined the meeting. He was very impressed with my work and I felt proud describing my three point plan. I got a chance to ask the students some questions and interact with them. I also answered some of their questions, and, before I realized, it was almost the end of our meeting. We parted after agreeing to do this again in future and keep Ms Costanzo’s class updated with my accomplishments as Oregon’s Kid Governor. Another thing I was excited about was that they offered to send me one of their school t-shirts. Raaga sitting at desk in front of laptop.

I got to travel, make some new friends, and soon, will be bringing home a souvenir! I’d say that this was one amazing trip across the country! Just like that, I knew exactly what cause I would be hosting my next fundraiser for! Lorraine Elementary, Buffalo, New York!

This is Oregon’s Kid Governor, signing off, :).

Oregon Supportive Housing Institute

Raaga with Kenny Lapoint and Mary Beth Herkert.The Oregon government recognizes homelessness to be a major issue in our state. To help address this, in 2019, the government allocated $50 million to be spent on building 1,000 units of permanent supportive housing. Twenty nine different teams from all across Oregon applied for a portion of that $50 million grant. Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS), Oregon’s housing finance agency, reviewed those 29 applications, and shortlisted ten teams. These ten teams underwent training with Oregon Supportive Housing Institute (OSHI), an organization OHCS created in consultation with the Corporation of Supportive Housing (CSH). On Wednesday, March 4th, the teams presented their detailed project plan, at Woodburn Medical Center. I felt very honored to be invited to this important event.

 

It took us about 35 minutes to get to the venue. When my mom and I arrived, we were greeted by Mary Beth Herkert, and Kenny Lapoint of OHCS, who showed us to our seats.

Raaga with Rae TrottaBefore we took our seats in the front row, I was introduced to a very friendly person, Rae Trotta, who I later found out was one of the organizers of the event.

 

 

Kenny Lapoint at podium.The event began with Rae describing what CSH did. CSH builds healthy communities that serve the homeless on the platform of housing. Rae also mentioned the details of how OSHI came together. Next, Kenny came to the podium, and I felt very honored when he introduced me to the audience, and showed my campaign video.

I even got to share a few words afterwards. I was thrilled to see the audience up on their feet, as I concluded my speech. At that point, the ten teams came up on to the stage, and presented their projects. Through the presentations of the teams, I learned that 11% of the homeless are native american, 16% of them are African American, and most of them have difficulty finding a consistent place to take shelter. I realized that for these ten teams, presenting their projects is not a job, but it truly is their heart’s desire.

After the meeting, I got the opportunity to talk to some of the team members about their project over a buffet lunch. It was gratifying seeing how they all admired my work as much as I did theirs! With over 14,000 homeless people in Oregon, these projects covering 1,000 units might not sound like much, but this definitely leads Oregon on a path of eventually eliminating homelessness. As we drove back home, I felt very optimistic for what the future holds for some of our most vulnerable neighbors.

The summary of the event is at the following link: https://youtu.be/HpRyhuYSlzY

Newberg City Council Meeting

Raaga in front of Chehalem Cultural Center building.On Thursday, February 20, I got the opportunity to attend Newberg City Council meeting and experience first hand, our local city governments work.

Newberg is a town, about an hour drive away from Portland. I typically cannot stand long drives- they make my head hurt. So, I planned ahead, and brought an OBOB (Oregon Battle Of The Books) audio book to listen to on the way there. The book, Out of Left Field, is one of my favorites from this year’s selection of sixteen OBOB books. Listening to the book made me forget about the long drive, and it felt like we got there in no time.Four pictures of flowers including daisies and chrysanthemums

My mom, my grandfather visiting from India, and I, arrived at the venue, a bit ahead of schedule. We waited in the entry hall, and looked around. There were many different framed pictures on the walls, mostly of flowers, which of course I took a bunch of pictures of. The beautiful daisies and chrysanthemums made me feel so peaceful and content!

Agenda for local government dinner hosted by the City of Newberg.When we entered the banquet hall, we met with Mary Beth Herkert, and got our name tags, and raffle tickets, which were for the raffle later that evening. As we got seated, the mayor of Newberg, Mr. Rick Rogers, gave the introduction, and described the agenda for the evening.

 

 

 

Mary Beth Herkert, Mrs. Yarnell and Raaga smile for camera.When the mayor had finished his announcements, we went to get our appetizers and socialized with the attendees. I was very excited to run into the daughter of a retired teacher from my elementary school, Mrs. Yarnell, there!

 

Mary Beth and Raaga on stage behind a podium.Soon after, Mary Beth Herkert went on stage to talk about civics education and also about the Kid Governor program. She also talked about the three branches of government and even offered the audience to pick up a copy of the constitution she brought with her. Then, it was time for me to go onstage, and describe my three point plan. I also fielded some questions from the audience. One person asked me how I got so good at public speaking, and who trained me to be so confident, and that made me laugh!

Raaga's meal of pasta, green beans and mashed potatoes with tiramisu cake for dessert.By then, I started to feel hungry, and, lucky for me, it was time for dinner. There was pasta, green beans and mashed potatoes, which were all super delicious, there was also a tiramisu cake for dessert, which I loved!

 

Raaga with Rick Rogers - Mayor
Raaga and her parents with Mayor Rick Rogers

Post dinner, it was time for the mayors and councilors of several Oregon towns to take turns and talk about the latest developments from their region. One mayor told everyone how there was a collapsed bridge that would need rebuilding in their town, and a sewerage problem they are addressing. Another city councilor talked about the new bakery that opened in their city center. I found this all very interesting – I learnt so much about these Oregon towns just by sitting there!

Raaga with city council personnel As the evening drew to a close, I took a bunch of pictures with all the city council personnel that were there.Raaga with city council personnel

 

 

 

One even asked for my autograph on their copy of the constitution!

Raaga signing copy of constitution.My grandfather thought that was very cool and he too wanted a picture with that councilor!

Raaga with council member and her grandfather.

 

 

 

 

Here’s a video summarizing the evening: https://youtu.be/6LQeaMBnpn4.

 

It was an evening that taught me a lot about how local governments work and how projects get done that help the communities. The gift card I had won for Newburg city bakery was the cherry on top and I am really looking forward to putting it to good use!

Implementing my three point plan

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.

Raaga Implementing 1

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!

Raaga Implementing 2

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.

Raaga Implementing 3

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!

Raaga Implementing 4

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!

Raaga Implementing 5

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:

  1. Attend the meeting with all the homeless organizations, on March 4th, in Woodburn- Learn
  2. Work with the housing association and Mary Beth Herkert, put a lesson plan together to teach fifth graders about homelessness- Learn
  3. Work with my cabinet members and get the kindness clubs going across the state- Love
  4. Meeting with City of Newberg on February 20th and spread awareness about Kid Governor program and my three point plan
  5. 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!

Royal Rosarians Newsmaker Award: January 30th, 2020

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!

Raaga Royal Rosarians 1

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.

Raaga Royal Rosarians 3

I felt very fortunate to share the stage with some of the most incredible community members that night and receive such wonderful recognition.

Jefferson Exchange: Jefferson Public Radio Interview – January 28th, 2020

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!

Raaga Jefferson 1

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!

Recognition at BSD Business Meeting: December 16th, 2019

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.

Raaga BSD Meeting 1

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, :).

Raaga BSD Meeting 2

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.

Raaga BSD Meeting 3

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.

Raaga BSD Meeting 4

Salem Reporter Telephone Interview: December 26th, 2019

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.

 

Media Query- PDX Parent: December 3rd, 2019

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.

Raaga PDX Parent 1

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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. 🙂

Raaga PDX Parent 2A 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!