CRY Houston Gala Celebrates Heroes for Life, Raises $1 Million

Dev and Dr. Sushma Mahajan receiving the Heroes for Life awards from Vivek Oberoi.

By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: It was a tough two years as CRY America bided its time waiting for the COVID pandemic to subside. In those two years, with fundraising efforts trickling down, the nearly 45 year-old, India based organization Child Rights and You, pivoted to more achievable programs to help children in distress. Along with it, the group’s US fundraising arm, CRY America, managed to ride out the pandemic with lower levels of donations and two years – 2020 and 2021 – of hybrid- virtual galas with committees from its five core cities.

All that changed this year as in-person galas resumed once again. The success of the CRY America’s galas held in mid-May in the five cities – San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, San Diego, New York City and Houston – spoke as much of the outpouring of donations made by donors who supported CRY’s work as it did for the outstanding efforts of the host committees in each city and the legions of volunteers.

Once again, CRY turned to Bollywood actors for star power to draw in the crowds. This year’s galas featured veteran Bollywood actor Vivek Anand Oberoi (“Saathiya”, Amazon’s Emmy-nominated “Inside Edge”). And true to form, the galas also brought in a key member of the CRY India team to share her story. This year it was Lalithamma, director of People’s Organization for Rural Development, a CRY America-supported project in Andhra Pradesh.

Houston’s gala – dubbed “Heroes For Life” – was held at the Royal Sonesta hotel on the West Loop and brought in about 350 guests. Food for the evening was catered by Dawaat Catering and the cocktail hour was sponsored by Naveen and Simmi Jaggi of JLL and Zuhne. The emcees for the event were Sunny Moza of the Bay Area who went to all five cities and Meena Datt, Houston’s beloved radio celebrity. Murali Santhana provided all the excellent photography and music was by DJ Raman. The set up was by Sage Productions, linens donated by Dream Decors Design House, and centerpieces by @preyna

CRY America CEO Shefali Sunderlal noted that project workers were given special permission by the Indian government as essential workers during the pandemic to ensure that challenges faced by communities and children were addressed. “CRY’s donors and volunteers are our ‘Heroes for Life’ who ensure that our work for children can continue and grow,” said Sunderlal. A special thanks went to honorees Dr. Sushma and Dev Mahajan for their generous support.

Oberoi was engaging with his appeal to the attendees and shared his own reasons for being involved with CRY. He spoke about his mother’s dedication as a palliative care worker as inspiration for his long track-record of philanthropy, which he termed as “karmic investment”. After dinner, he led the evening’s pledge drive, telling stories about the importance of philanthropy. He walked the hall as spotters pointed out pledgers and appreciated them with personal thanks, wrapped them in a ceremonial scarf and took a picture with them

Dubbed a “superhero in a sari” by Oberoi, PORD director J. Lalithamma took the stage to share her story from growing up as a victim of gender discrimination to her work today to empower girls in her district. She founded PORD in 1992 to focus on girls’ education as a means of preventing early marriage.

The pledges drove the total donated in the five cities to over $1 million, a first for CRY America, with Houston leading the way with nearly $375,000 pledged, the most of all the galas, Oberoi and the emcee Sunny Moza exclaimed.

The tail end of the gala dazzled with a glittering fashion show choreographed by Ekta Popat and featured Bollywood musical numbers. The evening ended with guests taking to the dance floor in celebration to the beat of Bollywood hits.