Florida’s top two youth volunteers are Alexis Lehrman, 15, of Design and Architecture Senior High School in Miami and Joshua Williams, 12, of Ransom Everglades School in Coconut Grove.
Prudential Financial Inc., in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals, sponsors The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. The nationwide program honors two young people from each state who were nominated by their schools, based on their acts of service for their community.
Alexis’ project started when she was 8 after she saw an ordinary donut slathered in pink frosting in a Dunkin’ Donuts shop. Inspiration struck. She thought that the store should use these donuts to raise money for breast cancer. Alexis contacted Susan G. Komen for the Cure and set up a program where she could gather a team of friends, family and artists to help raise funds for breast cancer research. Alexis shunned birthday gifts for herself, and, instead, asked that gifts come in the form of donations toward breast cancer research.
“Ever since I was 8 years old, for my birthday, I have asked for charitable donations instead of birthday gifts,” said Alexis. “People donate to my fund and I donate to Susan.”
Her project included paintings created by her network of volunteers who were inspired by the pink symbol for breast cancer awareness. After completion, the paintings were mass produced and sold at Susan G. Komen events and some are displayed on street corners and buildings throughout South Florida.
Since she came up with the idea, Alexis has raised more than $50,000 through the Love Lexi Fund and various Susan G. Komen for the Cure events.
Although Alexis and Joshua have similar motives, both came upon their strategies differently.
For Joshua, it was a $20 bill that his grandmother gave to him when they were on the way to church. Joshua was told that he could spend it on anything he wanted — like clothes, food or movie tickets. When he saw a homeless man on the street he had a better idea.
“I knew I had to give him my $20,” said Joshua. “It changed my life forever.”
Thus inspired, Joshua asked his family, friends and community to donate money for the distribution of food to the homeless. In so doing, he felt he was making people aware of the hunger and the need that exists right here in our communities.
For seven years, Joshua’s Heart Foundation has distributed food to 150 families a month through the efforts of 1,200 volunteers who feed the homeless as well as load backpacks with food which are then distributed to young people. Most of the volunteers are children because Joshua felt his peers needed to become aware of the needs that are ongoing in their community.
Alexis and Joshua each received $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. to socialize with the other honorees from other states. Here, at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the pair waited anxiously to hear who ranked among the Top 10 youth volunteers of America this year.
During the 18th annual Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, Joshua learned that he made the cut — he was selected as one of America’s Top 10 youth volunteers of 2013.
“Seeing homeless kids on the street is my motivation. Sometimes school gets in the way but I do what I have to do. I always complete my school work.”
As a National Honoree, Joshua won a personal award of $5,000, plus a grant of $5,000 towards any nonprofit charitable organization of his choice, a trophy for Ransom and an engraved gold medallion. Joshua chose to give the grant to his organization, Joshua’s Heart Foundation.
Both students view their community service as lifetime projects.
For Joshua, it’s a calling that he’s found at an early age.
“I believe my purpose in life is to help out in any way that I can and I want to thank God for inspiring me,” he said.
For Alexis, her project resounds closer to home. One family member from both sides of her family has been diagnosed with cancer since she’s started her Love Lexi Fund. She wants to continue to help find a cure.
“When I began, I thought I was fighting for other women’s lives. Today, I realize I may be fighting for my own.”