ST. MARY’S COUNTY, Md. — There is no doubt that today’s youth can and will accomplish more than most people ever imagined to be possible. Every day, students are solving problems and making changes that impact the lives of so many people in the world.
And Southern Maryland happens to hold some of the best and brightest youth. Take Neelam Shah and Naggena Ohri for example.
Naggena Ohri and Neelam Shah
A rising junior at The Calverton School and a rising senior at Leonardtown High School, respectively, but the pair share many common career goals and a similar ambition to make positive changes in the medical field one day. But they just couldn’t wait to get started.
Following in the footsteps of their family members, Samir and Saar Shah, who had previously led a campaign for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society(LLS) that set records by raising $412,000 and ultimately winning national recognition as “Students of the Year,” Neelam and Naggena had big shoes to fill.
Saar Shah and Samir Shah, previous winners of National Student of the Year
However, the passion and motivation for helping LLS run deep throughout the family. Five years ago, Neelam and Samir’s father was diagnosed with “Primary Mediastinal B Cell Lymphoma,” and one of their aunts was diagnosed with Leukemia. Both have since made full recoveries and the family has attributed LLS’s research for making such a difference.
With seven weeks to raise money and a team of 15 student members helping back up their efforts, they set their hopes high to try and replicate the previous success of their relatives.
Team Fly4aCure 2020: (Top) Richard Kyaw, Roshan Panwala, Isabella Jenkins, Hemani Kumar, Neel Guha. (Bottom) Naggena Ohri, Gurneet Gill, Saniya Apte, Ria Sharma, Ami Patel, Rinu Patel, Manasa Iswara, Neelam Shah (Not pictured: Henry Blocksidge)
“So with my brother’s campaign, I think I got a really good insider perspective of what it’s like to be a candidate,” Neelam Shah explained. “I went to all his meetings. I went to all his interviews as well. I think I got a little bit of insider information which really helped me during our campaign. Then having Samir there kind of helped me along the way a little bit, too.”
Throughout their campaign, team “Fly4ACure” managed to break the records previously set, raising $445,000, winning the title of LLS 2020 Maryland Student of the Year on March 7, and the title of LLS 2020 National Student of the Year on July 6. Their single team raised nearly half of what all other teams in the Maryland LLS chapter raised, which totaled $963,000.
Naggena Ohri and Neelam Shah performing at their main fundraising event, “Rhythm.” The sold out event took place at Chopticon High School back in Feb. and was a multi-cultural dance performance, featuring routines inspired by diversity.
“Winning National Students of the Year brought a rush of emotions,” Ohri said. “We are privileged to have such a great local community that encouraged us in making a nationwide impact. We soon learned that with perseverance, determination, and support, anything can be accomplished. That mindset will forever remain with me.”
But to Shah, the team’s victory was extra special. Not only did they win the same recognitions as her older brother’s team, but they topped their fundraising number in a friendly and competitive fashion. A “sibling rivalry” at its finest.
“We had a little bit of a sibling rivalry going,” Shah said. “I think with Samir’s campaign, we were super grateful to everyone. We had no idea that we could raise that much money in seven weeks… So then with my campaign, I think we knew we could do it. So we really pushed our hardest and tried our hardest…”
“And then we beat him,” she said with a laugh.
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is a non-profit organization whose mission is to cure blood cancers but also improve the quality of life of patients and their families. Every three minutes someone is diagnosed with a form of blood cancer, and LLS has invested more than $1 billion in research aimed at helping these patients live longer healthier lives. Visit their website by going to https://www.lls.org/
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