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It all started when Shreeya Moolamalla was in ninth grade and met a speaker “who talked about how he was treated terribly due to his face deformity.”
Moolamalla was inspired to help underprivileged children in her community. Three years later, she is a senior at Mesilla Valley Christian Schools (MVCS) and founder and president of HandinHand, sponsored under the Community Foundation of Southern New Mexico (CFSNM).
HandinHand, with its own board of directors composed entirely of MVCS students, is fundraising and advocating on behalf of Doña Ana County children dealing with neurodiversity (variations in brain function and behavior), health and financial issues.
“We seek to make a difference in the lives of the children we meet,” HandinHand said on the CFSNM website.
“We are the first youth philanthropic organization that is completely run by high school students, and this is a great opportunity for more high school students … for the reason that not only will they turn into leaders, but also help children who really need it,” said Moolamalla, 16.
HandinHand members have volunteered at many local events, helping nonprofits and programs that benefit children. They have worked with special education students at Valley View Elementary School and children at the La Casa, Inc. domestic violence program and to benefit the children served by La Piñon Sexual Assault Recovery Services.
“It is such an amazing experience to meet these children,” Moolamalla said.
“I love helping kids,” said HandInHand Vice President Connor Coyle, 17.
Even though he was busy at school and playing baseball, basketball and football, Coyle said he “decided to go all in” with HandinHand.
“Kids can help in ways that better relate to children,” said Coyle.
He has found ways to balance these new responsibilities with his schoolwork and athletics, Coyle said.
“It’s so much fun,” he said. “It’s a big part of me.”
“HandinHand meant that I could finally make a difference in my community and I didn't have to do it alone, I would have fellow teens who wanted to help people as well that I could work and grow with,” said HandinHand historian Keely Starritt, 17.
The organization has “taught me leadership skills, how to work and plan events with a group of people, and it has given me the opportunity to help people from a different walk of life. I am so excited to continue to work with Shreeya and all the members of HandinHand,” Starritt said.
“I am happy I got to be part of it,” said HandinHand treasurer Ethan Mondoux. 17, who moved to Las Cruces from California four years ago.
Mondoux said he was “not good with kids” before joining the organization, but has become more comfortable interacting with them and taking on a leadership role as HandinHand treasurer, his first elective office.
Sharing kids’ happy moments, helping them make good memories and “making an impact” in his community have become important to Mondoux, he said.
HandinHand Secretary Elizabeth Duvallon has been friends with Moolamalla since first grade.
“I just wanted to be there by her side,” said Duvallon.
She has enjoyed “hanging out with the kids” and building relationships with them, Duvallon said. And, she believes it has made a difference to the children.
Part of the work Moolamalla and the other HandinHand officers are doing is focused on the organization’s sustainability – keeping it going after they have graduated.
Moolamalla said she is interested in research work and neuroscience as a potential career. Duvallon wants to be a film director. Mondoux is interested in studying psychology. Coyle is thinking about a career in real estate or possibly going to law school. Starritt is thinking about studying marine biology.
HandinHand membership is open to anyone up to age 18, Moolamalla said.
You can donate to HandinHand at https://cfsnm.fcsuite.com/erp/donate. Scroll down to HandinHand and click the “Donate” button.
For more information, contact Moolamalla at firstname.lastname@example.org.