By Nidhi Rao
2023-24 Key Club Texas-Oklahoma District Governor

As we approach the midyear mark, I want to share a message of hope for principals, teachers and advisors. We see all the work you put in, and we know you worry about the wellbeing of your students. The U.S. surgeon general says we are all experiencing an epidemic of loneliness, so I want to share how my school helped me find belonging.

My middle school years were lonely. I experienced feelings of isolation and confusion, and the idea of moving on to high school was daunting. I felt alone a lot of the time back then, and today many other teenagers in Texas are struggling with the same thing. In fact, in 2022 nearly 30,000 youth in Texas reported loneliness as a cause of mental health challenges.

I get it. It can be hard to make friends at school. Our schedules require less face-to-face interaction and our daily screen times continue to increase. But I consider myself lucky after finding a small community that welcomed me in. Ultimately, this experience sprouted into some of my best friendships, life experiences, and made me confident in who I am as I approach graduation.

At first, it was challenging to figure out where my niche at school was. I knew I loved helping others and I was interested in healthcare, but I didn’t know where to focus that energy. My brother suggested Key Club as a fun way to serve and make some friends. So, at the beginning of my freshman year, I took a leap of faith, and followed the gentle nudging of my mom and brother to join.

I quickly got accustomed to my school’s Key Club. I spent hours at volunteering events with other students, networked with people nationally and internationally, and fostered my leadership skillset, leading me to receive a presidential award my freshman year for the number of volunteer hours I completed. My sophomore year, I ran for a district position and now serve on the International Council. This position has given me opportunities to serve my local community, like through talking with middle schoolers about their volunteering options, as well as making an impact on a global scale.

I look back on events that I got involved in with, and I think about how many great memories I have. It brings me such joy remembering the journey of collecting over 600 books for underserved communities in Uganda that do not have easy access to healthcare education. Or how fun it was to join my classmates to serve our local food pantry by helping create food packages for families and getting to see the impact our service made firsthand.

Teenagers need clubs and other resources to help them find connections and build their communities and personal identities. I learned that I was not the only one looking for a place to fit in and I have fellow club members who joined us because they experienced bullying before and wanted to change their trajectory. Now, those classmates are good friends, and I’m glad they have a life-long support network, as well as fantastic memories as they start applying for colleges.

It feels like principals and teachers and advisors don’t get a lot of recognition these days for all the good they do. So, I want to thank the leaders at my school — Bridgeland High School — for making clubs an option for me and my classmates. It can be challenging for a lot of us as we navigate our way through our teenage years and I’m thankful for resources that help foster belonging, connection and opportunities to serve in the community.