While most kids were busy thinking about Barbies and video games, Leah Fox was busy building a business plan. Now the ripe age of 14, Leah knew the power of an insulin pump early on, and she wanted to make sure that other kids had a chance to experience the same freedom. With a passion for beading, she started her own company a few years ago, called Dragonfly Jewelry, to help kids with diabetes.
Her newest fundraising project is called Pennies 4 Pumps, which encourages classrooms at different schools in Fort Collins, CO, to compete to raise money by collecting pennies (!) The money raised goes to supporting a child who cannot afford the full cost of an insulin pump.
Leah was nominated for the Prudential Spirit of Community Award as a State Honoree from Colorado, and was chosen for an award of $1,000, an engraved silver medallion, and an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., to attend the national awards gala at the Smithsonian (and enjoy tours of the capitol). We chatted with Leah about her passion for helping others:
Tell us about the Pennies 4 Pumps program. What is it exactly?
Pennies 4 Pumps started out as a school fundraiser where classrooms challenged each other to see who could bring in the most "change" in a given period of time. Some kind of reward was offered as an incentive, like an extra P.E. class with a healthy snack. There was also a friendly competition between two student councils from competing schools who ran the campaign at the same time.
Recently, a middle school decided to sell T-shirts and promote Pennies 4 Pumps to their school community. Also, a local high school choir group has now partnered with Pennies 4 Pumps to provide a portion of its concert sales to the fundraiser!
So now, Pennies 4 Pumps is the "umbrella" name for all our fundraising efforts associated with raising money for an insulin pump.
Where did you get the idea?
It started back when I was in 5th grade. I was involved in student council and they were looking to do a fundraiser. At the time, I already had [my company] Dragonfly Jewelry, where 50% of proceeds go to raising money for insulin pump for a child who couldn't afford one.
To reach my goal quicker, I decided I could add another fundraiser. My school was the first school to do Pennies 4 Pumps, and now it has spread out through multiple schools!
So you started raising money making jewelry?
Yes, I was beading at the time and I want to help someone, so I started taking it seriously and made it into a business. Once I started getting better, it turned into nice jewelry. That business has grown to be a lot better than I expected. Then I told my parents I wanted to do this fundraiser for a child for an insulin pump. That's a pretty costly thing, but they didn't want to ruin my spirits. Then I started raising all this money and we did it! We helped someone.
Why is helping other kids to get on insulin pump therapy important to you?
I think it was the summer after I was diagnosed when I went to Camp Sweetpea (diabetes camp). One activity was going swimming, and all these kids were twisting off tubing. I was really interested in it and then at lunch I would see these kids and they'd add up their carbs and bolus. I was like, "You don't have to take a shot?" I was pretty recent with my diagnosis and didn't know much about it.
My parents knew about the pump, but they only decided to get it when they noticed how badly I wanted it. They understood how dedicated I was. After I was on it for awhile, I just loved it so much. I am very athletic, so with sports, the temp basal is amazing. I love all the functions on it.
When we went back to Camp Sweetpea and I was showing my pump off, some kids wished they could have one. Some families can't afford it because pumps are really expensive and the insurance company doesn't always pay for all of it. It really pulled a trigger in my heart.
How much money have you raised? How many pumps have you provided for kids?
So far, we've raised almost $8,000 over the past 3 years at four local schools. Other people have helped out, too, by taking donations at work.
We helped one little girl last year in December. We really wanted to stay local [to Fort Collins] for our first pump scholarship. Anyone can apply, but it's a pretty intensive scholarship. People need to be really committed to it. We're working with a single dad right now who wants to get one for his daughter. We want to extend to Northern Colorado, not just Fort Collins.
Any big plans to go national?
It's local scholarship and pretty small. But from what I started out with, it's grown. We're not a big organization and I'm just a teenager.
My principal nominated me. We had to fill out this huge application. They take one middle school student and one high school student from every state. When the results came in, I got called up to the front office and at first I thought I was in trouble! But my dad was there with flowers. It was a big surprise!
I've gotten all these opportunities because of this award. There was an article in our local paper, and I went on a radio show. The choir I mentioned partnered with us. Another school joined us because they read the article. It's amazing what the news did when it reached people. It's been awesome. Also, I was on an online radio show called Teen Talk Radio out of Chicago.
How was your big trip to D.C. for the Prudential Spirit of Community Award gala?
I enjoyed sharing our projects with other honorees. There are so many projects involved helping people all around the world. [Other winners] were raising money to build houses, collect hygiene products, dig water wells, and more. I am beginning to think about how kids are managing diabetes around the world. Do they have insulin? How do they check blood sugar? How are they keeping their insulin cold? Are they dying? I am inspired to do more.
Speaking with Susan Sarandon at the Prudential gala
Seeing how many of the honorees used social media to get the word out about their projects challenges me to consider how to use them in my fundraising efforts. I am more committed to completing my web site, develop a Pennies 4 Pumps Facebook site, maybe a Twitter account, and more! I also want to research how to become a nonprofit like so many of the other projects. Meeting and interacting with the International Honorees was super amazing. I didn't even know that there were going to be kids honored from other countries! The honorees inspired me to think big!
What are your goals for the future?
I'm 14 now, so it depends on how things go. When I get back, I want the word to get out. I really want people to know about this. Not just because I want them to buy my jewelry. I really want them to know that this is not a huge organization, but we are helping people. We are giving someone something that helps them, not just for a little while. It's a lifelong tool that helps them and makes their life easier. I hope more people find out about this. I want more families in need to find out. I want to bridge the gap between what an insurance will pay and what families can afford.
Other than that, my lifelong dream is to one day own my own store.
What's your message for other kids with diabetes?
I'd like to tell kids with type 1, who are finding out about these fundraisers and who are feeling lonely, that there are camps that help kids. I went to camp in Colorado and I found my two best friends there. Having a friend who knows what you're going through is a special bond. My non-diabetic friends always joke around with me that my friends with type 1 and I have our own language. My friends without diabetes, they hear me talk with my friends with type 1 and they can't understand what we're talking about!
When I talk to kids, I also like to tell them that giving back, no matter how big or small, giving back to other people and helping people in need is great. It feels so good to give back.
Thank you, Leah. You started really early with the "giving back" — and it is much appreciated, we're sure!