13-Year-Old Entrepreneur Brings Mission to Fargo (Emerging Prairie)
Kayla Abramowitz is 13 years old. A good chunk of those thirteen years have been spent in the hospital. Between her having Crohn’s disease and juvenile arthritis and her younger brother Ethan having juvenile arthritis as well as eosinophilic esophagitis, gastritis, and gastroparesis, she’s well accustomed to spending time in the hospital – the hours, days, even weeks of sitting, waiting, bored.
“Kayla and Ethan know what it’s like to be in the hospital for 3-4 weeks at a time,” said Kayla’s mother, Andrea.
“It was so boring,” Kayla said. “And I really wanted to change that.”
Two years ago, at 11 years old, Kayla founded Kayla Cares 4 Kids, a non-profit dedicated to equipping hospitals with sources of entertainment and education like gently used DVDs, books and game consoles. Her mission is to “bring a smile to every sick kid.”
Now, she’s bringing those smiles to Fargo, ND, as she travels from her home in North Palm Beach, Florida, to present at 1 Million Cups Fargo and hand-deliver donations to Sanford Children’s Hospital and the Fargo-Moorhead Ronald McDonald house. Kayla will be making her donations on Wednesday afternoon, July 8.
“We donate anything that will provide entertainment and education,” she explained. “It’s helping any kid, even if a sick kid is in the hospital for a day, that’s going to cheer them up. Help them through the process.”
Kayla’s original goal was to donate 100 DVDs to the local hospital, and she went around the community asking for donations. The Palm Beach Post picked up the story, and 3 days later, she had 300 DVDs.
“That’s when I realized it could be bigger and we started going national,” she said.
Today, Kayla Cares 4 Kids has delivered more than 8,100 DVDs, electronics and books to 73 children’s hospitals and to Ronald McDonald houses in 45 states. Kayla, who now serves as the CKO (Chief Kid Officer), said the goal is to go to all 250 children’s hospitals and all 150 Ronald McDonald houses in the country, while getting donations to all 50 states.
National Young Entrepreneurs Academy Winner
Kayla’s work has garnered a slew of media attention and awards, including last month when she was named the national winner of the Young Entrepreneur Academy (YEA!) at the Saunders Scholars National Competition. YEA! is a nationwide nonprofit that partners with U.S. chambers across the country, offering an Entrepreneurial training program for middle and high school students. The finals were held in Washington D.C. on June 8, where Kayla wowed the audience and the panel of judges, securing herself the title as well as $30,000 in college scholarships.
Elly Peterson, Government Affairs & Advocacy Coordinator at the North Dakota Chamber of Commerce, was in the audience when Kayla presented. She immediately sought to bring Kayla to Fargo to share her story.
“We were just blown away with the level of entrepreneurship seen in these kids,” Peterson said. “We wanted to bring her up to Fargo so people could hear her story…and also so she can talk about the Young Entrepreneurs Academy and how it helped her launch her company. We’re hoping to get the same impact here in Fargo.”
The YEA program is launching for the first time in North Dakota and will be held here in Fargo. It’s a 30 week program wherein young entrepreneurs, like Kayla, are trained by older experienced entrepreneurs “who know what it takes to start a company,” Peterson said. Right now, the Fargo program has 10 sign ups, and a max of 24. Classes start September 2015. You can apply here!
Spreading the word to all 50 states
The YEA award also granted Kayla Cares 4 Kids a business prize package, $3,000 to Sam’s Club, and a trip to see Sam’s Club’s/Walmart headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. The trip to Arkansas, which Andrea estimates could happen this Fall, will mark the 50th state for Kayla Cares for Kids donations.
“We want to make it a huge big party saying ‘Woo it’s my last state!’” Kayla said.
The journey to reach every state has been no small feat, Andrea said. Right now their headquarters is primarily their living room and garage, where you’ll find stacks and stacks of DVDs and donations being prepped to ship. Everything is volunteer based, and they’re always applying for grants with the hope of hiring employees in the future. Kayla is kept busy with speaking and events, like last week when she was honored at a Palm Beach City Council event.
“We have so much going on in addition, applying for grants, doing presentations,” Andrea said. “On top of that we have to remember that Kayla has Crohn’s and arthritis. Yesterday she was at the hospital for the day. Right after she might have a day or 2-3 to have down time.”
Speaking about her illness was never the point for Kayla. But bringing awareness to the illnesses of her and her brother has become an equally important aspect to their program. Often, Andrea said, people who hear her speak will mention they have or know someone who has Crohn’s disease – an illness that affects approximately 1.6 million Americans but is not often brought into the spotlight. Or, people will ask more questions about arthritis, not knowing that it’s possible for kids to have it too.
“It really strikes a chord in a lot of people,” Andrea said. “By putting it out there, by Kayla talking about these conditions…it just gets those illnesses out there. It gets them talked about.”
Yes, Kayla is a successful entrepreneur and active leader of her own company. But Kayla is also a seventh-grader at Watson B. Duncan Middle School. She plays euphonium in the school band and is a Cadette in Girl Scouts. She has friends that want to hang out, and homework to get done. Running a non-profit, she said, can be hard.
“It kind of interacts with my other life. My school and my friends. I don’t necessarily want to do it at the time. Sometimes it just in the way,” she said. “But when it comes down to all, it’s good that it’s in the way. I learn more, and know more, and it prepares me for life.”
Come hear Kayla speak this week at 1 Million Cups Fargo. 9:15 AM at the Stage at Island Park. It’s bring your kids to 1 Million Cups day, so we’ll be providing juice boxes – you provide the kids.
by Marissa Jackels on July 6, 2015