Junior starts non-profit organization to spread happiness through singing

September 5, 2020 — by Kaasha Minocha

“Hi, what’s your name?” asked a kindergarten student to then 5-year-old Naisha Agarwal. Agarwal, shy, nervous and unable to speak, ran away and cried.
Agarwal, now a junior, had an anxiety disorder called selective mutism, where she could not connect with anyone socially besides her family. 

Singing changed that.

Agarwal said she has been singing for as long as she can remember. It helped her get through tough periods in her life related to her childhood disorder by relieving her major anxiety and stress and allowing her to connect with others.

Because singing helped her so much, Agarwal said she wanted to use its “healing power” to spread happiness and to relieve stress for anyone hurting during the pandemic. In June, she started Singing for Smiles, a nonprofit that seeks to help people  through singing over Zoom or on recording, with members performing a chosen song individually.

To get singers for the organization, Agarwal put a general post on Facebook to all her friends, saying that they had no requirements to join. She received many responses from interested students. As the organization began to perform, more people from the school and nearby high schools like Cupertino High School found out about it and wanted to join.

Sophomore Mahati Kotamraju saw Agarwal’s Facebook post and decided to try singing in the organization’s first event. She said she has really enjoyed her experience so far. 

“It’s very heartening to be able to bring joy to others through a passion that I enjoy so much,” Kotamraju said. 

As the organization expanded, Agarwal decided to establish a board of directors. It consists of junior Catherine Kan, the social media head and event coordinator, and Kasvi Singh, the outreach head who is a junior at Design Tech High School.

After the organization started gaining popularity, Agarwal decided to expand its mission to other parts of the world. Agarwal posted on LinkedIn and soon found people in India who were interested, which led her to begin a Singing for Smiles India chapter. Agarwal is also in the process of starting a Japan chapter by connecting with a friend in Japan who helps her connect with people interested in joining.

“People from all over the world are hurting, and I want to reach as many of them as I can,” Agarwal said. 

As of Aug. 21, there are roughly 20 members in the California chapter and six members in the India chapter. 

In terms of coordinating the performances, Kan reaches out to as many organizations as she can and usually receives a few responses. From there, she plans logistics including the dates and times of their performance.

Each event has a theme that the group chooses, like Broadway musicals or a Disney. From there, each member picks an upbeat song related to the theme. 

When they first formed and started performing, the non-profit held full run-throughs to make sure everything went as planned. Now, with more regular performances, they have a routine for how each performance will go, so they mostly practice individually.

The California chapter’s first event was at the Crescent Oaks Memory Care organization, where they sang for people with dementia or Alzheimer’s over Zoom. 

“The first event went really well,” Agarwal said. “We could physically see how happy we were making the seniors and that definitely inspired me to keep going and to keep pursuing this.”

Next, they sang for the Saratoga Senior Center and now do weekly performances there.

They also have other special performances, such as their Aug. 23 performance for Strathcona Place Society, a senior citizen center in Canada. Additionally, they are going to perform for Nevada 211, a senior care facility in Nevada, where they are performing for the staff. 

“The staff is doing so much work for the seniors, and we’re going to sing for them to make them happy,” Agarwal said, adding that they are also planning to sing for hospitals and orphanages.

To expand the organization even more, Agarwal has established Singing for Smiles as a regular club on campus. The group is only at its beginning, she said.

“I’m excited to expand and get more singers involved,” Agarwal said.