K4C microgrant recipient Laya (17) from Baltimore, MD was recently named a 2019 Carson Scholar; one of 20 semi-finalists for the Yale Bassett Award for Community Engagement; and a 2019 Bank of America Student Leader. She additionally received the President’s Volunteer Service Award with Gold Status for volunteering for 250+ hours.
All of us at Karma for Cara Foundation know Laya well. We recently awarded her a 5th microgrant for the service she provides to the homeless in Baltimore City, and she has spoken at K4C fundraising events. Although we admire Laya’s work, what we most love about what she does is that she involves young children from McDonogh School (where she is a senior) in her community service efforts, thereby creating a tradition of service to others that will continue even after Laya graduates from McDonogh.
When Laya was in 1st grade, her teacher & long-time mentor, Mary Catherine Irving, taught her students about the homeless and inspired & enabled Laya and her classmates to give back to the Baltimore community in small ways. Ms. Irving later asked Laya as a 4th grader to educate younger students, lead projects and apply for grants in the continuing 1st grade effort to assist the homeless. Laya and 1st graders began with assembling & distributing trail mix packets & hygiene kits, but as Laya saw a greater need, she expanded the work to include backpacks with food & toiletries in the summer and fleece blankets & sweet treats in the winter. For additional hands in gathering & assembling, Laya called upon the entire school to get involved. She quickly realized that a year-round need exists for the homeless in Baltimore—Healthcare for the Homeless estimates that on any given night, 3000 people make their home on the streets of the city. Laya states that one of the most important parts of her role in serving the homeless has been meeting & getting to know them individually and hearing their stories so that the school’s efforts can cater to their specific needs.
Even now Laya is mentoring three McDonogh 4th graders to take on the leadership role she has filled for the past 8 years. When she submitted her most recent K4C microgrant application, the 4th graders were with her asking questions about the grant application process. The 4thgraders will begin teaching younger McDonogh students about the homeless this spring in preparation to take over the leadership role when Laya graduates.
Laya has been “on the ground” for many years distributing the items directly to the homeless and to shelters. The van used by St. Ignatius Church’s Loaves & Fishes program helps her transport the items, and Ms. Irving and her parents usually accompany her.
To Laya her work is very personal. She has developed a relationship with several of the “regulars” she serves—2 ladies who always gather at a specific bus stop who are best friends with each other; a man at the Power Plant who uses a wheelchair & tells her a new joke every time she sees him; 2 men to whom she gives fleece blankets—one gives her a hug and the other a song & dance. She & her team have also had to intervene on occasion: a mentally ill man was threatening to kill himself & they drove him to Johns Hopkins Hospital, and when Laya handed a young woman a backpack (Laya calls her by name), she cried in the middle of the street, explained to Laya how unsafe the streets are, and asked Laya to keep her in her prayers.
Community service is obviously a large part of Laya’s life. She remarks that she has always enjoyed helping others, “If other people aren’t happy, I’m not happy…it’s who I am.” She will continue her service efforts at the next level, wherever she attends college. But as much as service is a significant part of Laya’s life, she somehow finds time to participate in many other activities: she has played piano for 11 years and flute for 7 years, taken 9 years of classical Indian dance, sung in choirs almost her entire life including at school where is she assistant conductor and in a women’s a cappella group. Additionally she is the is the Editor in Chief of McDonogh’s literary magazine and newspaper. Outside of school she sails at the Downtown Sailing Center.
We are proud to have supported Laya’s service efforts, and we are proud to know her! Congratulations!