Leanne Joyce, at the age of 16, has accomplished more than most adults. A nationally-ranked jump roper, competitive swimmer, and gymnast, the 11th grader is also an honors student who will be taking four AP classes this year. All this in spite of the fact that Joyce was born with a congenital heart condition: aortic valve stenosis.
At age 12, Leanne’s cardiologist issued the devastating news that Leanne had to stop competing. Her heart couldn’t handle the strain. Sports could actually kill her. Eventually, she would need valve replacements.
Instead of allowing this new development to crush her, Leanne chose to find something positive in her new situation. She started a nonprofit organization called Positive Impact for Kids and managed to raise over $64,000 for sick teenagers. The money goes to purchase gifts to cheer hospitalized teens.
Leanne Joyce aims to raise $100,000 by her high school graduation, and is well on her way to doing just that. Which is how Kars4Kids came into the picture. Leanne applied for and received a Kars4Kids small grant. We were happy to partner with Positive Impact for Kids in even this small way and see this nonprofit organization as a very worthy one!
We spoke with Leanne Joyce to learn more about her story and about Positive Impact for Kids:
Kars4Kids: Tell us about your career as an athlete. How old were you when you began serious training? What ranking did you achieve in jump rope?
Leanne Joyce: I was eight when I started competitive training for jump rope. My 3 and 4-person groups placed second and third in multiple events for our age group at Nationals.
Kars4Kids: Did you always know you had a heart condition? How long does the doctor think you have until you’ll need to have valve transplants?
Leanne Joyce: My heart condition was diagnosed at birth. I was raised knowing my heart was not properly formed. We are not sure when I will need a valve transplant. I visit the hospital twice a year for check-ups and cardiac testing.
Kars4Kids: Tell us about the period when you found out you could no longer compete. Did you have any warning this might happen someday? You must have been so depressed. How long did it take for you to find a positive focus so you could move forward?
Leanne Joyce: I had zero warning that I would be forced to stop competing in sports. I was asymptomatic and felt completely healthy. I competed in Nationals and achieved high rankings a month before I was forced to quit.
At the time, my world revolved around working out and intense training. It was extremely difficult to cope with the loss of sports. Upon losing the ability to compete, I became extremely devastated and depressed. I lost my life purpose and tried looking at the situation from many perspectives trying to find a possible positive outcome.
I found out early October 2011 that I would no longer be able to train competitively and started my non-profit the following month. It was a quick shift in the way I spent my time but I put all of my passion and drive that I used in sports into my non-profit.
Kars4Kids: Do your former teammates stay in touch with you? Is it difficult to hear their sports news and cheer them on? It must hurt.
Leanne Joyce: I stay in close contact with some of my former teammates because they are a huge part of my life and some of my best friends. I love attending local qualifiers and cheering everyone on!
It is certainly difficult hearing about everyone’s exciting sports news, even beyond jump rope. I am happy for others and their accomplishments as much as possible but a part of me still wishes I were able to travel the world with my teammates. I am inspired to stay positive by watching and learning from children who are affected by true health tragedies and are simply grateful to live another day.
Kars4Kids: We know that teenage volunteers gave you a gift that helped relieve your stress when you first got your diagnosis. What was that gift? In what way was it helpful?
Leanne Joyce: I received a $10 iTunes gift card that showed me people cared about not only children in the hospital, but also older youth. Teenagers have some of the most difficult times coping in the hospital because they are very aware of their treatments, possible outcomes, side effects and complications. Despite this, most donors cater their donations towards younger populations. Hospitals often have an abundance of Barbies, stuffed animals and toy cars. Hospitalized teenagers also deserve to be recognized and praised for their resiliency and bravery with distraction tools to enable a sense of normalcy from their day-to-day life.
Kars4Kids: Was it difficult to set up a nonprofit? Tell us about the process.
Leanne Joyce: I used Legal Zoom to help me set up my nonprofit. I read a lot about the basics of starting a nonprofit and what was required. I did all of my research online and when questions arose I turned to professional philanthropists for help. My parents helped with the legal paperwork and had to sign everything since I was not 18 and able to legally sign documents.
Kars4Kids: You have an impressive-sounding board and advisory committee. How did you find all these people to help you? Is it scary to approach important people and corporations to help you?
Leanne Joyce: Most of my board members are family friends that possess important qualities and each are able to bring an important specialty to my nonprofit. My advisory board is composed of adults that I have met throughout my years as a youth philanthropist. Sam Beard is the co-founder of the Jefferson Awards Foundation and at some point in time I have been involved in three of their programs. I currently serve on their youth advisory committee, the Think Big Team and as a GlobeChanger.
Kars4Kids: How many hours a week do you put into Positive Impact for Kids? Do you travel a lot? How do you manage all this and your schoolwork, too?
Leanne Joyce: Last school year I committed about 600 hours to my non-profit. I took two AP classes last year and will take four AP and all honors classes this year. It is a lot managing my school work, philanthropy and social life but each is individually very important to me so I find time for everything.
Kars4Kids: How did you manage to raise so much money? Can we hear about how you did that? That’s truly impressive for anyone, but especially for a high school student.
Leanne Joyce: I raise money through private donations, fundraisers and grants. Most of the funds are raised through fundraisers and grant writing I complete. I spend lots of time searching for grant opportunities and constructing my essay responses to finish applications. I held my first large fundraiser in November of last year and raised more than $12,000. I am already planning that tennis fundraising event again this year along with a 5K that will be held locally in December.
Kars4Kids: Do you think you’ll make your goal of raising $100,000 by graduation, being more than halfway there?
Leanne Joyce: I think I will meet this goal as a result of the generosity of corporations and individuals in my community and our country. I plan to continue writing grants and facilitate annual tennis charity events in MA along with my December 5K.
Kars4Kids: You have donated items to hospitals in every state! That is a remarkable accomplishment. How will you top that? What’s next for Leanne Joyce?
Leanne Joyce: I have made donations to 83 hospitals, at least one in each state. My goal is to make an even larger impact at hospitals. After initial donations, I am often asked to further donate to meet the ongoing needs of hospitals. It is heartbreaking that I am unable to fund all of their needs which drives me to work even harder to obtain financial support for Positive Impact for Kids.