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“I Have A Voice”

Nov/06/2022 / by Nupur Bhatnagar

Aashna Shah encourages volunteerism in youth, one step at a time

Aashna Shah Miss Florida’s Outstanding Teen 2022

Miss Florida’s Outstanding Teen 2022, Aashna Shah is not your usual teenager. An 11th-grade honors, AP, and dual enrolled student, she is a recipient of the Presidential Service Award, is a published author, Founder of Kindness in a Diverse Society (KIDS) and the Ambassador for Learning Disabilities Association of America.

Aashna owes her sense of volunteerism and service to a visit to an orphanage in India with her parents that fired an urge in her to start her own nonprofit to help underprivileged children. “My parents made me the person I am today”, she says of the impact their morals and upbringing has had on her life.

“Following my visit, what hit me most was how different and privileged I was as compared to someone else exactly my age but in a different situation”, she shares. With the motto of “kids helping kids”, in 2017 Aashna, along with her friends founded Kindness in a Diverse Society (KIDS) with the aim of helping the ‘whole child’.

What started with a small art auction, is now an organization with a full-fledged team of volunteers, an executive branch and has raised money through global dance competitions, drives, fundraisers. Talking about her initiatives, Aashna tells us, “We have a podcast too where we talk about promoting volunteerism to our youth resulting in a better future, affect lives and create passion.”

KIDS is the proud recipient of an official proclamation from the Mayor of Jacksonville for promoting and increasing volunteerism in Florida’s youth.

After being diagnosed with Dyslexia and ADHD in her 8th grade, Aashna found opportunity in expanding her focus on not just basic necessities like food, water and clothing for every child, but also with learning disabilities- that’s how the idea of ‘Helping the whole child’ came to be.

As author of 2 children’s books (Dynamic Diya: Dyslexia is her superpower and Amazing Adriana” ADHD is her superpower), and as Ambassador for Learning Disabilities Association of America, Aashna is ceaselessly creating more awareness about how these disabilities are perceived.

“As a motivation speaker, a mentor and an advocate for people with disabilities I have able to talk to schools, parents and organizations and share my story.”

“Having done smaller pageants before I knew I had to do something that would give me a larger voice. The Miss America Organization aligned with our family values of volunteerism and education. I want to be a pediatric dental surgeon and being able to get scholarships for my higher education made the organization look attractive to me”, she shares.

Despite being diagnosed with Dyslexia and ADHD, her win made her not just a role model to her sister or the entire Indian community in Jacksonville, but now, her entire county- “I felt so motivated after my victory, I wasn’t ashamed of my disabilities. We went to every single elementary school in my county and donated my books. Accepting my disabilities and gaining my confidence back, I could use my voice to enable others to speak as well.”

She was able to secure a proclamation from the city of Jacksonville declaring May 8-14, 2022, official Dyslexia Awareness Week and aspires to increase diversity within the Miss America competitions.

Aashna is on three competitive dance teams: the Ponte Vedra High School “Splash” Varsity Dance team, Art of Dance and Bollywood Dance Mania. “My parents have inculcated the values of my culture and charity in me”, she says talking of her interest in both Indian and American dance styles.

Aashna continues to tirelessly create more awareness about children with disabilities and their needs. “We’re working hard towards getting a bill to have a budget aside for children with disabilities accommodations, something I had to fight for myself.”

Aashna, who felt she would not be taken seriously earlier owing to her young age, has found a new power through her victory as Ms. Outstanding Teen- “Now my state sash and crown have turned into a megaphone, and I can make actual change happen. I have a voice.”

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