Eleven-year-old Leanne Joyce was waiting for the results of an echocardiogram during her annual appointment in 2011 at Duke Children’s Hospital when a group of volunteers came around passing out small items. Leanne received an iTunes gift card, and, though she can’t recall what games or songs she downloaded with it, she remembers the gift’s impact. “It made me feel really good about myself,” Leanne says. “I wanted to give back, and I realized the best way to do that would be to start my own nonprofit.”
Around that same time, the nationally ranked jump roper, competitive swimmer and gymnast was told she had to stop all of her activities because of the strain on her heart due to her congenital heart condition. Instead of dwelling on her disappointment, Leanne took advantage of her clear schedule after school. “I knew that I would have a lot of extra time,” Leanne says. “I had been raising money prior to that hospital visit, but … I just wanted to change gears. That’s when I really decided I could use that time to help hospitalized kids.” In the fall of 2011, Leanne started Positive Impact for Kids to provide children’s hospitals with items from their wish lists.
Now a freshman at Carrboro High, Leanne is three years into her fundraising efforts. Although she relied on her parents to help her apply for 501(c)(3) status, Leanne is the driving force behind Positive Impact for Kids. Between school, her school’s golf team practice and homework, Leanne raises money through private donations, grants and fundraisers. “I think the hardest thing is competing for grants when it’s all adults and bigger corporate nonprofits, and I’m just this little 15-year-old trying to get these grants, too,” Leanne says. But don’t underestimate this teenager. To date, she’s raised $30,000 – no small feat. And she’s had a lot of support locally. “In July, we got a $2,500 grant from the Carolina Panthers,” Leanne recalls. “We got a $5,783 grant from Whole Foods last year, too.”
All the funds have made it possible for Positive Impact for Kids to donate 50 iPads and more than 500 gift cards, two laptops, two Xbox 360s, two PS4s, and arts and crafts supplies to hospitals in every state and Washington, D.C. It doesn’t take long for Leanne to hear stories from grateful hospital employees who report back on all the ways the iPads are being used – from playing lullabies for infants to candle-blowing apps that help kids steady their breathing. “One hospital had a kid … having blood drawn … and they needed five professionals and his mom to hold him down,” Leanne says. “Then they gave him an iPad, which completely distracted him so they just needed one professional and his mom to hold him.” On a local level, Leanne’s gifts have jump-started the donor campaign of getting PS4s in each of the patient rooms at Duke Children’s Hospital, and Certified Child Life Specialist Kathryn Oches says she’s seen the impact on the kids there.
“Leanne seems driven to make a difference in the lives of children and teens who are living with illness. The gifts she has provided help our patients engage in something nonmedical and normal during hospitalization,” Kathryn says. “She’s doing such a great job advocating for awareness of hospitalized children and teenagers.”
Leanne’s generous spirit has led to a steady stream of media attention including recent stories on CNN and The Huffington Post. Last spring, she was North Carolina’s middle school honoree for the Prudential Spirit of Community award, given to young people for their outstanding volunteer service in their community.
Despite all of the accolades, she’s focused completely on her goal of raising $100,000 (with more grants and perhaps a golf charity tournament) by her high school graduation in 2018. “I just know how hard it is being in the hospital waiting, not knowing what’s going on. I don’t want anyone to ever feel like that without a gift,” Leanne says. “It’s just so rewarding to know that I’m really making a difference in kids’ lives.”
Read more about Positive Impact for Kids and donate online at positiveimpactforkids.org.