ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — I struggle to find a word that is neither presumptuous nor pejorative, a word that doesn’t unduly stereotype a teenager who is an only child with two successful parents, attends a private school and lives in a Tanoan home with a pool and a Kardashian-level baluster-scrolled staircase.
And so I think “comfortable.”
“Do you live a comfortable life?” I ask Aalisha Bhatt.
And, of course, she does.
“I have been given a very comfortable, fortunate and blessed life,” she says, using even better words. The right words.
She isn’t the stereotype. She is no spoiled brat, no selfish and unaware 16-year-old, no Kardashian. She knows she has it good.
But she also knows most children don’t. And she cares deeply about that.
She was a freshman at Albuquerque Academy when the idea came to her to do something about sharing her good fortune with children who struggle.
“I remember telling my dad: Instead of donating, let’s start our own thing and donate the way we really want to,” she said.
It took months of red tape and paperwork for their own thing to become Share My Fortune, a nonprofit, with Aalisha as its inspiring founder and chief volunteer (she can’t be on the board of her own charity because she’s not 18 yet).
The charity’s broader goals are to give orphans a second chance in life by raising $100,000 by June 2020. So far, it has raised $20,000.
For now, though, Aalisha said, the charity is taking smaller, more immediate steps to help at-risk children and teens in Albuquerque, particularly through New Day Youth and Family Services, which provides safe haven and services for runaways, troubled and homeless youth.
“Our plan is to first help our community here in Albuquerque, where there is such a dire need,” she said. “Then, when we can, we hope to help children and youth in New Mexico, the Southwest, the country and then internationally.”
On Sept. 28, Share My Fortune will hold its first major fundraiser, which combines two of Aalisha’s passions – helping others and tennis, a sport she has been playing since age 3.
The idea was sparked by Academy tennis coach Amy Badger.
“I approached Aalisha last January after the school put out an email that basically acknowledged her and her charity and how proud everybody was of her,” Badger said. “At the time, I had no idea – as self-motivated as you can imagine she is, she is also very humble. But I was so moved by what she was doing, and I wanted to help her do something.”
The all-day event, called Serve for Kids, will feature tennis sessions for kids from age 4 through high school at the Academy tennis courts, plus an exhibition match between members of the University of New Mexico tennis and club teams.
“It’s going to be a huge event,” Aalisha said. “But even if you don’t play tennis or just want to learn about the sport, it’s still going to be a great fun-filled event for the family, with lots of other activities going on.”
Aalisha credits her family for keeping her grounded and generous.
“My whole life, I’ve always been taught to give back and how important it is staying connected to your roots, how important it is to remember where you came from,” she said.
Where she came from – where her parents came from – speaks to where she is today and why what she does matters so much to her.
She was that orphan who got a second chance.
She was 2 months old, emaciated and sickly when her parents adopted her from an orphanage in India.
“I was malnourished and super-tiny when they found me,” she said. “But then I was adopted into this amazing family, and I have just flourished since then. I am just so lucky. So few get a second chance like that.”
Aalisha also knows she wouldn’t have gotten that chance had her parents not gotten theirs. Both were immigrants who came to this country from India, young, with little to their names and knowing no one.
Today, her father, Nimish Bhatt, is the chief financial officer of Thornburg Investment Management in Santa Fe, and her mother, Dr. Sonal Bhatt, is a physician with Concentra Urgent Care.
Her parents have taken her back to India three times, a reminder of their roots, their wings and their calling to help others.
“I’ve been back to visit the orphanage three times, and you see these kids running around without shirts, and when I asked my mom why they don’t wear shirts, she told me there is no money for that. And that’s really sad,” she said. “I want others to see what I see and do something to make things better.”
I ask her about the origins of her name. She tells me her mother named her Aalisha because it means “fantastic.”
That’s just the right word.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg.