CRY Houston Gala, Neelam Kothari Take the National Total to Over $1 Million

HOUSTON: Bollywood actress Neelam Kothari Soni found herself in the starring role of a lifetime this past month – albeit quite different from any she’s played over her 40-film career, or her recent comeback thanks to Netflix’ “Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Lives” reality series.

As the guest of honor for Child Rights and You (CRY) America’s 2023 Gala series, Neelam led the charge toward a “box-office blockbuster” of a fundraiser series that netted over $1 million toward life-changing support for underprivileged children in India and the U.S.

Gala Chairs Juuhi and Prakash Ahuja receive award from Dr. Raj Bhalla.

CRY America is a US nonprofit that supports projects in India and the U.S. that ensure access to education and healthcare for underprivileged children, as well as protection from child labor, early marriage and trafficking. Since 2004, with the support of over 25,000 donors and over 2,000 volunteers, CRY America has impacted the lives of 786,985 children living across 5,027 villages and slums through support to 90 projects in India and the US.

CRY America Gala events ran from April 28 through May 21 in Seattle, San Diego, the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City and Houston, raising a total of $1.08 million toward 40 projects in India and the U.S. currently supported by the nonprofit. Titled “YOU are the ‘Y’ in CRY”, the galas trained the spotlight on the donors, project partners and media supporters who have been integral to establishing CRY America as a leading child-rights organization.

Dina Patel, Fundraising Manager of  CRY Texas was ecstatic about the Gala at the Royal Sonesta Houston Galleria held on Sunday, May 21. “We raised more than $300,000 for the children and communities we serve. We are extremely grateful to all of the donors, sponsors, volunteers and attendees.”

Radio host Meena Datt receives award from Guest of Honor Neelam Kothari.

In addition to Neelam Kothari Soni, the Gala honored long-time radio celebrity Meena Datt. Gala Chairs Juuhi and Prakash Ahuja, were aided by national advisory board members Dharam Bali and Juuhi Ahuja; the Texas Advisory Board, Gala Committee, and Texas Gala Manager, Chetan Patel.

“The CRY America team – Shefali Sunderlal, Patrick D Bocco, Lipika Sharma, Supritha Shetty and Communications team in India made this a labor of love and passion.

Entertainment was by Sitarist Rishab Rikhiram Sharma playing contemporary sitar fusion music and by Ekta Popat of Storytellers School of Dance who performed colorful and intricate dance numbers.

Neelam urged gala attendees to open their hearts (and, adding playfully, “your wallets”) and donors heeded her earnest requests to “make CRY happy, make the children happy – and make Neelam happy,” contributing generously.

CRY America CEO Shefali Sunderlal credited the Dinner Committees, volunteers and staff for making the gala series a huge success. She said, “Our donors ensured that thousands of children will have a better future with their generosity.”

In addition the gala featured a description of CRY projects by Lipika Sharma on the work in India. A young beneficiary of the Kolkata project Sanlaap, Kishan, joined by video to talk about his journey from being an at-risk orphan in the slum to becoming a youth leader in his community. Kishan now mentors other children and is pursuing a masters degree in social work. In the past year, 70 formerly at-risk children passed their school exams. Additionally, over 30 adolescents rescued from the sex trade have been linked to livelihood resources.

The Houston Gala featured a live auction conducted by Dr. Subodh Buchaar featuring a violin bass guitar autographed by Paul McCartney; a Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls jersey; a Star Wars cast movie poster; dinner at Musafeer restaurant; a Llardo piece and dinner at Kiran’s restaurant.

As no India-focused event would be complete without a bombastic Bollywood finale, the gala wrapped up with guests and performers crowding the dance floor in a jubilant show of solidarity for child rights. Neelam hit the dance floor herself and mingled with the guests.