Often, we think of teenagers with an eye roll—loud, boisterous kids who act squirrelly and don’t contribute positively to the world around them.
The students at Our Savior Lutheran School, however, are proving that stereotype very wrong.
Four young girls in the seventh grade have proved to an entire community that teenagers can indeed make a great difference, offering hope and financial blessings to those who need it most. Their story is an inspiration to all of us.
For Christians, the season of Lent—the weeks leading up to Easter—are typically a time of giving something up. This year, Our Savior was challenged to “give up and give out” as a church and school with multiple ministries in multiple locations around Pinellas County.
Our Savior students Drake, Olivia, Jocelyn, and Hannah were inspired by the challenge to do something to dramatically bless others. As Jocelyn explains, “We wanted to do something to give back. We started brainstorming, and had lots of ideas. We decided we wanted to focus on doing something that would help prevent or cure cancer—we hate cancer!”
The rally against cancer is one that hits home for all of the girls. As Drake explains, “I lost my dad to cancer when I was eight, so I really wanted to do something about it.” Indeed, each of them has experienced the pain of a loved one grappling with cancer—Hannah’s grandmother and Olivia’s uncle died of cancer, and Jocelyn’s grandfather is currently suffering from it.
The girls went to their teacher, Diane Linder, and asked her advice about a worthy cause they could get involved in. She connected them with Tampa Bay Research Institute, a non-profit biomedical research organization established in 1981 where scientists are pioneering new techniques to empower the immune system to treat, cure, and prevent cancer and debilitating diseases.
Together, the girls planned a fundraising event to help raise money for Tampa Bay Research Institute. They creatively partnered with Hannah’s parents, owners of Pia’s Trattoria in Gulfport, who hosted their efforts one evening.
“We went to Pia’s and went around to different tables and told people about the organization. We asked if they would like to donate to TBRI and get a piece of pizza in return. They were able to donate whatever they liked—some people donated $1, while some donated as much as $20,” says Jocelyn.
Their efforts in the restaurant were met with such resounding support, that the group soon decided to take it to the streets—literally.
They shared with dozens of strangers how they had been challenged by their church to do something positive to give out during the season of Lent, and that they were trying to collect money to fund an organization that helps people in desperate need—and how each being directly affected by cancer had spurred them to support Tampa Bay Research Institute.
“We walked down to the beach and all around Gulfport. We talked to people on the street, and met some interesting people and a lot of people who were telling us about God; they told us that what we’re doing really helps but that He is the one who will cure everything,” Jocelyn shared.
The girls were surprised by how much they raised, and how supportive strangers were of their efforts. According to Hannah, “It was hard to get out there at first, because we were shy. But we got used to it, and people were really friendly!”
Pia’s Trattoria generously matched the girls’ fundraising efforts, and Tampa Bay Research Institute’s president, Dr. Akiko Tanaka, invited the group and their teacher to a TBRI function to present their check for several hundred dollars. The girls attended, chiming in and remarking, “It was really cool to listen to them talk about what they do. We learned a lot, and everyone was really happy to see kids involved in something like this.”
Dr. Tanaka and Tampa Bay Research Institute were deeply touched by the efforts of these young ladies. As Dr. Tanaka says, “I was very touched by their thinking and creativity in realizing that you can also help others. This can be done by adding your support to a mission that is addressing the causes that are personal to you. These young ladies are already thinking about other people and ways to help. It’s so wonderful to realize that the young generation is so thoughtful, innovative and creative. It’s inspiring.”
So what effect did this experience have on these teenagers? “I feel really good that we did this. I’m glad we all got together, and I hope we can do it again. It sets an example for others to follow at our school, to help others in need,” explains Olivia.
The others agree. “I feel kind of selfless, and I feel happy,” says Drake, while Hannah adds, “I feel so good about what we’re doing—we’re helping people!”
As Jocelyn recounts, “It was a good feeling to be able to do something to give back. I really enjoyed doing it and I want to do it again. It’s good to know that no matter how young you are, you can still make some sort of difference.”
Dr. Tanaka praised the four, saying, “When you have that grounded purpose that you want to do something for other people, that will stay with you your entire life. I was very pleased to find young people who are really able to help others…To give you first, that’s wonderful. Already, these ladies are doing that.”
All of the girls were encouraged by this experience to continue helping people in their community. Olivia shares, “I don’t usually do many activities like this, so to do this, it really impacted me—faith-wise and community-wise. I’m going to continue this in the future.”
“I’ve never organized an event like this with three other girls—it’s helped show what a team can really do. It’s amazing that four middle schoolers can really do something!” says Jocelyn.
Hannah agrees: “This is my first time doing something like this in a small group and going around to help people. It encouraged me to keep doing better things and live up to God’s Word.”
Our teenagers have been inspired to encourage others to reach out positively to their communities. “You don’t have to be an adult to tell people good things and things that need to be heard,” says Drake. “We showed that some people do care, and that we can follow God’s Word to help and still enjoy ourselves,” adds Hannah.
All four girls agree that they would love to help in the same manner again. “This season, we focused on kindness and selflessness—it was good to give back, not just give up,” shares Jocelyn. “We showed that the youth really care, and it’s given others some hope.”
What do these inspirational young ladies want you to know about serving your community? “Even if you’re shy, you can help others,” says Hannah, as Drake adds, “Don’t be afraid to talk to people!” Jocelyn agrees, “Don’t think you can’t do something just because you’re not important or you’re younger.”
May we all be encouraged to seek new ways to bless the community around us, and in the buoyant words of Olivia, “Just get up and go for it!”