More than $1 million raised to support underprivileged children in India and the United States
Bollywood actress Neelam Kothari Soni took on a remarkable role these past few days, one quite distinct from her extensive career in over 40 films and her recent comeback through Netflix’s “Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Lives” reality series.
As the guest of honor for Child Rights and You (CRY) America’s 2023 Gala series, Neelam spearheaded a fundraising effort that resulted in an outstanding achievement, raising over $1 million to support underprivileged children in India and the United States.
CRY America is a U.S.-based nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting projects in India and the U.S. that ensure access to education, healthcare, and protection from child labor, early marriage, and trafficking for underprivileged children. With the support of more than 25,000 donors and over 2,000 volunteers since 2004, CRY America has made a significant impact on the lives of 786,985 children across 5,027 villages and slums through its support of 90 projects in India and the U.S, according to a press release issued by the organization.
Read: Neelam Kothari Soni adds glitter to CRY 2023 gala series (April 25, 2023)
The CRY America Gala events took place from April 28 to May 21 in various cities, including Seattle, San Diego, the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City, and Houston. The series successfully raised a total of $1.08 million, which will be allocated to 40 ongoing projects in India and the U.S. Supported by the nonprofit. The galas, titled “YOU are the ‘Y’ in CRY,” highlighted the contributions of donors, project partners, and media supporters who have played a crucial role in establishing CRY America as a leading organization advocating for child rights.
Neelam, known for her captivating performances in Hindi films of the 1980s and 1990s such as “Khudgarz,” “Paap ki Duniya,” “Hero No. 1,” and “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai,” passionately urged gala attendees to open their hearts and wallets in support of the cause. Donors responded generously, heeding her earnest request to “make CRY happy, make the children happy – and make Neelam happy.” In many cases, employers also provided matching funds.
Shefali Sunderlal, CEO of CRY America, acknowledged the dedicated efforts of the Dinner Committees, volunteers, and staff in making the gala series a resounding success. She expressed her gratitude, saying, “Our committed dinner committees went above and beyond this year, tirelessly planning and organizing the galas. Our donors ensured that thousands of children will have a better future through their generosity.”
Read: 2022 Hope Gala spotlights South Asian community’s heart health (September 24, 2022)
The galas not only featured exquisite dining experiences and captivating music and dance performances showcasing songs from Neelam’s films but also included interactive video sessions with Souvik Basu, Executive Director of project Sanlaap in Kolkata. Souvik shared insights into the organization’s work with over 2,000 children living in one of Kolkata’s notorious red-light districts. Sanlaap focuses on breaking the cycle of exploitative sex work and child trafficking, rescuing children from labor situations, and reintegrating them into education.
During one of the sessions, Kishan, a young beneficiary of Sanlaap, shared his personal journey from being an at-risk orphan in the slums to becoming a youth leader in his community. Kishan now mentors other children and is pursuing a master’s degree in social work. Basu highlighted the achievements of Sanlaap, including the successful education of 70 formerly at-risk children and the provision of livelihood resources to over 30 adolescents rescued from the sex trade.
Arti and Ketan Kulkarni, Bay Area donors, have been associated with CRY America for two decades and have been supporting Sanlaap through CRY America’s Direct Project Funding program since 2017. Arti commended CRY’s holistic approach to bringing about lasting change, emphasizing the organization’s empowerment of local organizations and communities to find sustainable solutions to child rights issues.
The New York gala, held at the historic Taj Pierre Hotel, featured an address by New York State Assembly member Jenifer Rajkumar, who presented CRY America with a state proclamation in recognition of its unwavering dedication to child rights. The event also included a media conference with commentary from long-time CRY America volunteer Sharad Joshi, donors Sangeeta Mudnal and Jigar Thakkar, and Sandy Santana, Executive Director of Children’s Rights Inc., a nonprofit advocating for the rights of children in institutions and foster care in the U.S.
Santana praised CRY America for its 15-year partnership with Children’s Rights Inc., highlighting the organization’s transformative impact on child-serving systems in 20 U.S. states, positively influencing the lives of 1.6 million children. Mudnal shared her firsthand experiences from regular visits to CRY America projects in India, applauding the organization’s holistic approach and its ability to inspire collective action for child rights through strategic partnerships with government agencies and communities.
Alongside the gala series, CRY America conducted an online auction featuring sarees by Anamika Khanna and Gaurav Gupta, jewelry by Sheetal Zaveri and Suhani Pittie, paintings by Ramesh Gujar, Sujata Achrekar, and Bharti Prajapati, as well as a cricket bat signed by Cricket Captain Sourav Ganguly, among many other unique auction items.
The gala events culminated in joyous Bollywood-inspired dance performances, symbolizing unity and solidarity in support of child rights. Neelam, before joining the enthusiastic crowd on the dance floor in the Bay Area, summed up the evening’s purpose by emphasizing every child’s right to proper education, nutrition, and the freedom to choose their path in life. She expressed her honor in being part of the fundraisers and urged others to join her in supporting CRY America’s noble cause.