Mozie van Raaij found her voice, confidence through 4-H, choosing kindness

Last weekend, Mozie van Raaij won the state title of Ohio Fairs’ Queen 2021. It’s a major accolade, earned through her hard work and dedication to 4-H, FFA, and the importance of overall agriculture.

And, she earned major local kudos, being only the 3rd person from Clark County to ever snag the title.

But, the honor to serve as Ohio Fairs’ Queen might honestly be the least of van Raaij’s accomplishments during her short 19 years of life. Included among other things she does, van Raaij has been a motivational speaker since midway through high school, sharing her own experiences with bullying and sharing her own mental health challenges.

van Raaij says back when she was a freshman in high school, she was already struggling with anxiety and depression – issues that were exacerbated by extreme bullying she faced from other students. The harassment got so bad, that by the end of her first year of high school, she had attempted suicide multiple times.

“Not much action was taken on the part of the school and the authorities,” van Raaij says. “There were a lot of tears and a lot of roughness and a lot of fear. But, what that taught me is that first off, things need to change, and second, that mental health is just as important as physical health.”

Though van Raaij says her family knew about her struggles, it wasn’t something she wanted to otherwise talk about openly. But in April of her sophomore year, she walked into a locker room and saw a big chalk board on the wall covered in “extremely nasty, vulgar and awful things about other girls.”

She took a picture of the hateful messages, then she erased them. And instead, she wrote “Be Kind” largely across the board. She took another picture of her replacement message and sent both to her mom.

van Raaij says her mom posted the snaps to Facebook, hoping her friends and other community members would get behind the need for parents and students to do better – to be better.

“It went viral in 24 hours, and at first it really put a target on my back again,” van Raaij says about that Wednesday post.

The Friday of the same week was the anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting, and with the help of her mom and In a Pinch Screen Printing, van Raaij decided she wanted to use some of the money she had earned through 4-H livestock sales to have 200 shirts printed to give to students at her school – Southeastern High School.

Inside the head of a sunflower, the shirts share van Raaij’s simple message: Be Kind, and it’s repeated again underneath with #bekind.

By that night, van Raaij was being interviewed by TV stations and newspapers, and she says her phone was ringing off the hook with people wanting to order shirts and make donations.

By Saturday, In a Pinch Screen Printing set up to sell shirts, and van Raaij was being contracted to give motivational speeches – something she says was completely out of her comfort zone at the time.

But she faced her fears because she hoped her story would help at least one other person.

“Now I’ve spoken to crowds of 15 to 500. It was definitely very scary at first, and it still is now for me even through it’s three years later,” van Raaij says. “I still don’t like talking about it. I still struggle with mental health, but it’s important to open up those conversations because I’m so lucky to be here.”

Today, van Raaij’s Be Kind organization puts all it’s funds toward scholarships and supporting local organizations, including Second Harvest Food Bank of Clark, Champaign and Logan Counties and Oesterlen Services for Youth.

In the midst of her new-found role as a mental health advocate, van Raaij also earned herself a spot on the state FFA board and continued pursuing goals through 4-H, which she’d been a part of since she was young enough to join Cloverbuds before becoming a full-fledged member.

Though the years she’s taken a variety of miscellaneous project – including sewing and baking – as well as a number of livestock projects, including rabbit, ducks, pigs and dairy feeders.

“Both organizations (FFA and 4-H) just really gave me that support network and those relationships with people who want to see you succeed,” says van Raaij, of South Charleston. “And all the opportunities you have – there are opportunities for personal growth and development, you can do something that interests you and learn from it, and personally, I think it helps develop confidence.”

van Raaij ran for her Clark County first fair queen title in 2018 when she was 16. She didn’t win queen, but instead was named Dairy Princess, and she says from then on she knew she wanted to run again and win queen.

She ran again in 2020 and clenched the title of Clark County Fair Queen. She says she got a lot of questions about why she would want to run during the middle of a pandemic, during which the Clark County Fair was limited compared to typical years.

“Growing up in the fair, I’ve always understood why it was important. My heart has always been in the fair, but if you take people who haven’t had that connection, it can be hard to express why it means so much to you.

“Looking back to 2020, we had limited fair food and no flashy lights … it was a big wake up call to come back to our roots of the county fair and to realize how way back when – before all that stuff – that from an agriculture standpoint, the fair was a time to celebrate accomplishments.”

van Raaij says as the years have passed, some of the focus has shifted to the rides and games and fair food rather than on the farmers, the products they raise and their importance.

“The fair is a time to realize that we wouldn’t be alive without agriculture,” she says. “We can learn truthfully about where our food is coming from and the hard work behind it.”

During her year as Clark County’s queen, van Raaij didn’t get to visit as many other county fairs as she would have liked because of pandemic protocols in some counties, but she says she wouldn’t change it for anything.

COVID-19 protocols caused some changes with the state-level queen competition as well. For the first time, candidates competed in multiple stages instead of all together at one place, at one time.

First, van Raaij competed against eight other county fair queens and won a district level contest. Then, on Saturday, May 22, she ran against the winner from the eight other districts across Ohio. And she earned the title of Ohio Fairs’ Queen 2021.

While she holds the title, van Raaij says she’ll visit county and independent fairs across the state, meet other Ohio fair royalty, and get to be involved in the Ohio Fair Managers Association to learn more about the logistics of running fairs.

As if that won’t keep van Raaij busy enough, she’ll also start her sophomore year at Ohio State University in the fall, where she’s majoring in psychology with a minor in substance misuse and addiction, all of which put her on a premed track.

“After getting my bachelor’s degree, I plan on attending medical school, and I want to be a pediatric rheumatologist,” van Raaij says. “I was diagnosed with juvenile fibromyalgia at 16, and my rheumatologist at Nationwide Children’s told me that is a diagnosis, not a definition. I want to be able to do that for other kids.”

In the meantime, van Raaij has no plans of slowing down and is already making an impact at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, where she works as a medical health technician on the Behavioral Health floor.

“It’s about being able to sit with kids during some of their most vulnerable states and crisis and be there for them,” she says. “I’m learning a lot from my coworkers, and I’m learning a lot of stuff school just can’t teach you. And, I love working with kids.”

Read more articles by Natalie Driscoll.

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