6 Palm Beach County Students Dedicating Themselves To Philanthropy
Photography by Austen Amacker
Shot on location at the Culture Lab, an experiential creative space in CityPlace West Palm Beach.
Meet six local students who are changing the notion children should be seen, not heard. From hosting beach cleanups to organizing charity walks and 5K races, these young adults are living proof that Anne Frank was correct when she wrote, “No one has ever become poor by giving.”
Bianca Papa first learned about cancer’s debilitating effects during a class lecture at Dwyer High School. She wouldn’t understand its painful ramifications until her brother, Beckett, contracted acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a blood-based cancer that can spread from bone marrow to other organs, like the liver. Their parents took him to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis where he received round-the-clock care until his cancer went into remission. In gratitude, Kayla hosted “Running Cancer Out of the Park 5K” on Sept. 8 at Jonathan Dickinson State Park in Hobe Sound. The 3.1-mile charity race-walk was modeled after the Palm Beach Post’s “Stronger Than Cancer Young Hero 5K” she ran in her freshman and sophomore years. Planning took eight months, and the event raised more than $25,000 from registration fees and donations she’s gifting back to St. Jude. While she received help from her mother, Adrienne, who competes in triathlons like Ironman, the 16-year-old did most of the heavy lifting, from wooing sponsors to gathering special event permits, all while juggling a busy academic and athletic schedule. She is considering organizing another 5K—but with extra help—next fall.
Charity role model: Ellen DeGeneres, humanitarian and host of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” Words of wisdom: “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” - Oprah Winfrey Hobbies: Playing sports Dream profession: Broadcast journalism Favorite subject: English Extracurricular activities: Christ Fellowship Youth Ministry, cross-country running and soccer
William Shakespeare could have been thinking of Bettina Gannon when he penned this famous line in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”: “And though she be but little, she is fierce.” While watching dogs being extricated from human cruelty and abusive homes on TV, the pint-sized Palm Beacher knew she had to help other rescued canines and cats lead more love-filled lives. So, for her 8th birthday, she asked guests to bring pet products instead of presents. Her friends didn’t disappoint and brought hundreds of pounds of pet food and $560 in monetary contributions that she donated to Peggy Adams Rescue League. This year, she reprised the party tradition and delivered a car’s worth of provisions. The Palm Beach Day Academy fourth-grader is planning to foster kittens from the West Palm Beach animal shelter as well. She’s also training her dog, Lucky, to be a therapy dog so he can help people coping with myriad health issues. And she’s launched Bettina G & Lucky D, a line of matching clothes and accessories for dog owners. The plan is to donate 20 percent of the profits to Peggy Adams and Red Sneakers for Oakley, a local philanthropy that fosters food allergen awareness through education and community outreach.
Charity role model: Joanie Van der Grift, board of directors president of Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League Words of wisdom: “I have a dream … that all men are created equal.” - Martin Luther King Jr. Hobbies: Sewing, baking, swimming, golfing and playing tennis and piano Dream profession: Entrepreneur Favorite subject: History Extracurricular activities: Chorus
It’s not common practice for a preteen to run a 501(c)(3) non-profit, but it’s second nature for Kayla Abramowitz. Now a junior at William T. Dwyer High School in Palm Beach Gardens, she was 11 years old when she knew she wanted to help hospitalized kids feel better in their sterile, often fun-free surroundings. Growing up, Kayla and her younger brother, Ethan, who collectively share a plethora of diseases, including Crohn’s disease, juvenile arthritis, gastritis, gastroparesis and eosinophilic esophagitis and colitis, often stayed in pediatric units for weeks at a time. They found relief from pain and boredom with movies and video games they played from their beds. In 2013, Kayla launched Kayla Cares 4 Kids, an organization that delivers entertainment and educational items, like DVDs, DVD players, game consoles, books and board games to residential facilities, hospitality homes, 250 children’s hospitals and every Ronald McDonald House nationwide. As an Arthritis Foundation junior ambassador, she has rallied for more juvenile arthritis funding and wants to see a state mandate that would require insurance companies to cover the costs of medically necessary formulas like elemental formula, a dietary therapy for children with food-protein allergies.
Charity role model: Joshua Williams, founder of Joshua’s Heart Foundation Words of wisdom: “If you can dream it, you can do it.” - Walt Disney Hobbies: Drawing, listening to music and playing video games Dream profession: Computer science Favorite subject: Physics Extracurricular activities: Marching band and Girl Scouts
Lillian Khanna knew at an early age she wanted to be part of something bigger than herself. In seventh grade, she joined Bak Middle School of the Arts’ speech and debate team and discovered an intrinsic talent for extemporaneous speaking and congressional debate, an interscholastic competition where students draft, debate and vote legislation into law. Currently in her junior year at Dreyfoos High School of the Arts in West Palm Beach, she volunteers as a defense attorney at Youth Court, a peer-based program that gives juvenile offenders an opportunity to expunge their records. She also founded Youth Court and Law Studies, a club for students to learn about and be part of their community’s law-making process. Lillian’s main goal, however, is empowering other teens to affect social change through advocacy and activism. After the Marjory Stoneman Douglas School shooting, the communication arts major was invited to participate in the Boca Raton March for Our Lives rally and delivered an impassioned speech for increased school security and stricter gun control legislation.
Charity role model: Julie Khanna, mother and board member of Community Partners and Kids Cancer Foundation Words of wisdom: “Students should not only be trained to live in a democracy when they grow up; they should have the chance to live in one today.” - Alfie Kohn Hobbies: Videography, photography and social media marketing Dream profession: Law Favorite subjects: History and English Extracurricular activities: Speech and Debate Team, Youth Court and Law Studies, and Dance Marathon Finance Committee
Lily DeMara was 11 years old when Hurricane Irma attacked Florida’s idyllic southwest coast, leaving thousands around the state homeless and without power. After the tempest retreated, she was walking the beach near her home and was unsettled by the debris that littered the powdery sand. Not one to look away, the sixth-grader launched the Coastal Cleanup Crew, a beach cleanup initiative, with help from her parents and older sister, Sophia. Every other Saturday morning, rain or shine, Lily and a small army of friends, classmates and good Samaritans head to beaches in Palm Beach and Riviera Beach to remove refuse with buckets and plastic bags. Since launching, the group has liberated Palm Beach County’s Atlantic coastline from nearly 350 pounds of incendiary waste, from plastic straws and utensils to larger items like a motorcycle helmet. On May 24, Lily was presented with the Ideal School of Leadership’s Extraordinary Minds Award for her environmental stewardship. The honor is bestowed upon students who dedicate at least 30 personal hours to charity during the school year and champion a public service or humanitarian project for the betterment of their school and community.
Charity role model: Vikki Spruill, president and CEO of Ocean Conservancy Words of wisdom: “You can make a big difference for our ocean by taking personal responsibility for your own trash.” - Vikki Spruill Hobbies: Cooking and playing piano Dream profession: Environmental engineering Favorite subject: Science Extracurricular activities: Green Team
Even when faced with a life-changing condition, Aidan Hackett remained optimistic and determined, two traits that have served him well as a junior varsity baseball player. The Tequesta teen first learned he had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a common, genetically inherited disease that hardens the heart muscle making it difficult to pump blood, from an electrocardiogram he received in seventh grade. When the results returned abnormal, he thought his boys-of-summer days were over. This summer, he underwent a successful cardiac procedure at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami that resulted in better health and returned him to the baseball field. While mending, he wrote to Barbara Nicklaus, the hospital’s co-founder, and shared his personal journey and the desire to raise local awareness for Nicklaus Children’s Hospital Heart Program. The pediatric crusader wrote him back and they agreed to a partnership that kicked off with “Cardio at the Commons,” a 1.8-mile walk that raised more than $6,000. Now enrolled in Jupiter Medical Center Academy at Jupiter High School, the freshman advocates the life-saving benefits of early heart screenings to other young adults and student athletes.
Charity role models: Barbara and Jack Nicklaus, co-founders of Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation Words of wisdom: “There’s things in life that are going to throw you into the ground, but if you learn how to get up, that means you are not a quitter.” - David Ortiz Hobbies: Playing sports and video games Dream profession: Medicine Favorite subjects: Anatomy and physiology Extracurricular activities: Baseball and HOSA Future Health Professionals