By Naeisha Rose
Competing in Miss New York’s Outstanding Teen on April 7 in upstate New York will be Queens Village resident Cayla Kumar, the local titleholder of Miss Bronx’s Outstanding Teen, which represents downstate New York.
Miss America’s Outstanding Teen is a scholarship-based sister program to the Miss America Organization, according to missn
At just 15, Kumar has clocked more than 4,100 hours in volunteer service in more than four years. She has raised $25,000 in cancer research for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital as its first youth ambassador (in 2012) and is an active student at Archbishop Molloy High School, where she has a full-ride scholarship.
“I’ve always wanted to give back,” Kumar said. “When I was younger, I saw the commercial by St. Jude’s and how the kids were so sick, so I started getting involved when I was about 11 years old.”
Not only was she inspired by the commercial, she has also been personally affected by cancer in her family. When she was 4, a great-grandmother died of breast cancer, and a 7-year-old cousin was recently found to have a brain tumor.
During her spare time, she volunteers by cooking meals for families with Ronald McDonald House charities, a nonprofit that helps sick children.
Besides volunteering, she is also a fundraiser for children’s cancer with her “Gold Ribbon Project: Curing Pediatric Cancer” initiative, in which she sells gold lapel ribbons.
“It’s my way of advocating,” Kumar said. “Gold is the color of pediatric cancer.”
As a first-generation Guyanese-American, she is classically trained in Indian dances from the Sadhanalaya School of Dance and the Natraj Center for the Performing Arts.
“When I was younger, my mom and I watched a lot of Indian movies together,” Kumar said. “I always wanted to dance like the people in the movies.”
In school, she is teased for her naturally thin physique, but since competing in pageants to promote her platform for pediatric cancer, she has found inner confidence performing Bollywood dances on the Miss Teen stage.
“I’m not afraid to share my culture with other people,” she said, “and I can save money for college with the scholarship money, which is very important because I have a single mom.”
As a sophomore, Kumar is a member of the newspaper, photography and broadcasting clubs. In middle school at Our Lady of Lourdes, she was the student government president, a student mentor and a school peer monitor.
As an activist, she lobbied with more than 1,000 people last year outside the White House with the CureFest for Childhood Cancer organization to fight for more funding for pediatric cancer research.
“Kids are worth more than 4 percent” in cancer funding for research, she said, “and that’s why they need our help.”
Kumar hopes to become a dance teacher and to use her passion to pay for medical school at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland. Her goal is to become a pediatric oncologist.
“I want to help be a part of the cure for pediatric cancer,” she said.
Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by email at nrose