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L'Oréal Paris Women of Worth

When Lulu Cerone was growing up, her family had a lemon tree in their backyard.  So, naturally, she set up lots of lemonade stands.

At first, she and her friends would use the money to buy little pleasures, like toys or candy. But when Lulu turned seven, she decided to do something more significant. Instead of spending their lemonade money, Lulu and her friends gave it to a local dog shelter, which upped the ante on their simple pastime in a big way.

"We realized that adding an element of social good to this social activity not only helped some dogs, it made it way more fun and meaningful," writes Lulu in an email.


My first lemonade stand for charity. With Erin and Kaitlyn. MLK Day of Service 2009

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Lemon:AID Warriors on Thursday, July 4, 2013

But that was just the beginning.

Soon after, Lulu started researching other causes and stumbled upon Blood:Water — a nonprofit that seeks to end the HIV/AIDS and water crises in Africa. On their website, she learned that $1 can provide one person in Africa with clean water for an entire year.

"It never occurred to me that people didn't have access to water — a basic human need I totally took for granted," Lulu writes.

What hit her hardest was that girls her age had to walk miles just to get water that was dirty and might make them sick while the boys went to school.

So Lulu's lemonade stand profits started going toward providing clean water to people in Africa. Then, in 2010, the philanthropic game changed again.

When Haiti was struck by that devastating earthquake, Lulu and her friends decided to throw down a boys-versus-girls fundraising competition for Lulu's entire fifth-grade class. The idea was so catchy, it grew to other nearby schools, and soon they were getting donations from all over the city. After just two weeks, they had collected over $4,000.

The girls' fundraising team. Photo by Renee Bowen.

The experience was so exciting and unifying, the kids were chomping at the bit for more.

"This event showed us how empowering it was to realize that we already had the skills to create tangible good in the world," Lulu explains. "We didn't have to wait till we were adults."

And like that, her nonprofit, LemonAID Warriors, was born.

LemonAID Warriors provides teens and young adults with the tools they need to infuse social good efforts into their social lives.

Since there's no shortage of causes that need attention today, they're constantly offering new and exciting ways to lend a hand. It all started with Lulu's concept of a PhilanthroParty, which is essentially a social gathering centered around a social good concept.

One of Lulu's (center) PhilanthroParties. Photo by Renee Bowen.

The projects they supported in March 2018 include completing a dormitory at an orphanage in Tijuana and designing shirts for the March for Our Lives. Their ongoing work includes providing scholarships for children at a school in Zimbabwe and, of course, funding sustainable, clean water, hygiene, and sanitation projects with Blood:Water, which is now their partner.  

What started out as a lemonade stand has grown into a wildly successful nonprofit that's raised over $150,000 for people in need. And Lulu's activism is the keystone of it all.

Lulu visiting a school in Uganda. Photo by Renee Bowen.

At age 13, she was sharing social good action plans with the heads of Mattel. Soon after, she flew to Uganda to visit some of the water projects the Warriors helped fund. At 15, she won a Nickelodeon Halo Award and wrote her first book, "PhilanthroParties! A Party-Planning Guide for Kids Who Want to Give Back." Now, at 18, she's one of L'Oreal Paris' Women of Worth honorees.

There's no telling what other amazing things this world's going to see from Lulu Cerone.

[rebelmouse-image 19534241 dam="1" original_size="700x499" caption="Photo via L'Oreal Paris Women of Worth." expand=1]Photo via L'Oreal Paris Women of Worth.

But for Lulu, it all comes back to inspiring her peers and the next generation to take up the gauntlet of this grassroots-style activism.

"I feel we will be most effective if we are able to implement simple, realistic habits that make social-good a routine in our lives," Lulu explains. "My grassroots method doesn't add to your busy life — it turns what's already on your calendar into a chance to become an agent of change."

Starting with small, manageable actions is how Lulu got to be where she is today. It's these little, bold steps that lead to gigantic accomplishments. She also suggests looking to a mentor to help guide you. It's about following good examples and then, when you feel like you have guidance of your own to offer, giving back to those coming up behind you.

Speaking of which, Lulu's 14-year-old mentee, Madi Stein, is now the president of LemonAID Warriors. It just goes to show that you never know where social good pursuits might lead you.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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