By Sadef Ali Kully
Twelve-year-old Cayla Kumar is an achievement machine. She just completed about 900 hours of community service, raised $25,000 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and is preparing to compete in the National American Miss beauty pageant’s pre-teen division.
A Queens Village resident, Kumar, who was born on Long Island and raised in Queens, is a student at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Academy . In addition to a full day at school, she goes to classical Indian and modern Bollywood dance schools and volunteers.
She spends her weekends volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House and soup kitchens, participating in marathons with her mother Romeena Ali and preparing for her beauty pageants, which take place in the summer.
Ali, a single mother who works at a hedge fund, said her basic rule is that Cayla is allowed to participate in everything as long as she maintains good grades in school.
“The minute her grades drop, so do all the extracurricular activities she likes to do,” Ali said.
As youth ambassador for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for the last couple of years, Cayla has raised an estimated $25,000 through bowling events, community barbecues and story time, and plans to raise $2 million for the new hospital wing at St. Jude in Tennessee.
“My grandmother died of breast cancer and she inspired me to help others,” said Cayla about the motivation behind her enthusiasm to volunteer.
While raising funds for children with cancer, Cayla has also participated in beauty pageants, from which she has dozens of awards lined up in her bedroom. Her mother said that beauty pageants can offer generous academic scholarships, so she encourages Cayla to participate in them.
Her daughter wants to become a forensic computer technician and plans on attending John Jay College.
“She wanted to become a fashion designer, but now she wants to do this,” Ali said.
And Cayla replied, “Oh, Mom, that’s every little girl’s dream, but I had to grow up.”
But before she gets to college, Kumar will have to get to high school. She has her eyes set on either Archbishop Molloy High School in Briarwood, Townsend Harris High School in Flushing or Bayside High School.
Last year Cayla won in every category of the National American Miss pre-teen pageant: spokesmodel, talent, photogenic and casual but was one point away from the top ten.
This year, while she takes special summer classes for high school, she intends to participate again in the pageant while also planning to host a community barbecue event in Richmond Hill for St. Jude’s. While putting away her daughter’s awards after showing them to a visitor, Ali said, “Giving back is a theme for us.”
Reach Reporter Sadef Ali Kully by e-mail at skull