The Alamanac – After having spent most of her life in a refugee camp in Nepal, 13-year-old Ritika Chamlagai moved with her family to Whitehall Borough.
Shortly after her arrival, she learned about the offerings of a Bethel Park-based nonprofit organization with the acronym of SHIM.
“I heard a lot of my new friends talking about the youth mentoring program and all the activities that they did there, such as ice skating,” she said, “which is why I initially joined the mentoring program, because that is something that I always wanted to do.”
Speaking from her dormitory room in suburban Philadelphia, Ritika said she decided to stick with the program, even after the skating.
“I had really great mentors who would give me the advice that I needed or just guide me through anything,” she said. “Last May, I graduated from Baldwin High School and earned a full scholarship to Villanova University, where I’m studying to become a doctor.”
Ritika’s story is featured in the video accompanying Celebrate the South Hills With SHIM @Home, a virtual event held Sept. 9 that included an auction of donated items and opportunities for participants to donate. Despite the annual fundraiser’s change in format, it brought in $140,222.
“Over the past several months, this event was in doubt of ever happening, but perseverance and resiliency have prevailed,” Jim Guffey, executive director of what formally is the South Hills Interfaith Movement, said in the video.
“SHIM’s world, as was your world, was turned upside down when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in mid-March. Like everyone else, SHIM quickly had to adapt to a new normal,” he added. “I’ve said many times that SHIM is blessed by a phenomenal staff, and I am proud that my colleagues quickly pivoted and reimagined all of SHIM’s programs.”
The 52-year-old organization has the mission of assisting South Hills families and individuals in meeting basic needs and achieving self-sufficiency, while also building a sense of community.
For example, the youth mentoring program is designed to foster the academic and emotional development of students who live in Prospect Park, a Whitehall residential complex that has become home to many families of refugees.
“By living in a diverse place like Whitehall, I was able to listen to and learn from a lot of different individuals and their struggles, and I was able to recognize my privileges, even as a refugee, very early on,” Ritika said.