If you drive by the street corner of N 95th & W McDowell Rd in Phoenix, Arizona on a hot weekend afternoon, you'll likely see a young girl selling lemonade and snow cones.
Watermelon lemonade. Strawberry Lemonade. Sparkling Cucumber Lemonade.
That's not just lemonade she's selling—it's "LemonAid," with a portion of all sales devoted to helping others. This particular lemonade stand has raised more than $1,100 to purchase books, games, and toys for the common areas of the cancer wing at Phoenix Children's Hospital.
Look even closer.
That young girl working the stand is CEO Aleena Valdez, the 12-year-old founder of Aleena's LemonAid Stand. She has an employee, investors and a "pitch deck"—a PowerPoint presentation she wrote, complete with sales projections, anticipated expenses & material costs.
"Knowing that I can make the day a little better for a kid that is battling cancer…that's what makes me happiest in the world," says Aleena.
Inspiring By Example
Entrepreneurs have a special kind of driven focus when it comes to their passion, and this seventh-grader is no exception. But the most inspiring thing about Aleena isn't her philanthropic dedication at such a young age.
Because, while certainly a passion of hers, the LemonAid Stand isn't her Big Dream.
Get to talking with Aleena for a little while and you'll realize that her Big Dream is, quite literally, to change the world.
Aleena is hosting the Girls for Progress conference on August 27, 2016. It's a gathering of top-notch speakers, activities and panel discussions all focused on girls' leadership & empowerment.
And it's only the beginning.
"I want to bring girls together who want to make a difference in their lives. The conference would be a starting point to inspire girls to make a difference in their communities," says Aleena. "I have been told many times when starting my business that I am 'just a girl.' I want girls to know that they can do whatever they want to do."
From Dreams & Plans to Making It Happen
The idea of organizing a conference was born a year ago, when Aleena and her father, Richard, attended the InBound conference in Boston. Aleena had read the book, Renegades Write the Rules, and had reached out to the book's author, Amy Jo Martin.
That initial contact soon developed into a mentorship. When Aleena discovered that Amy Jo was speaking at InBound about empowering girls and women, she knew she wanted to be there. But she didn't anticipate just how much it would influence her.
"I wanted to bring something like that back to Phoenix," Aleena says, recalling her experience at InBound. "I wanted to bring strong powerful women that would ignite a spark in the girls that attend."
Working with Amy Jo Martin, Aleena has lined up an amazing roster of speakers, including scientists, best-selling authors and bloggers—incredible women who have each successfully fostered supportive communities. The keynote speaker will be Aleena herself.
"People have told me that I set my goals too high. I simply reply that I know what I am capable of."
Planning a conference takes a lot of hard work and coordination. In addition to booking speakers, Aleena had to secure a venue, design and print materials, promote the event, and seek sponsorship. This self-described "pretty quiet and shy" girl has been interviewed for radio, online and print media.
Her hard work is paying off and the word is getting out. Registration for Girls for Progress is filling up fast. And girls will not only be able to attend an awesome conference on August 27th. They will also get a free ticket to see the WNBA Phoenix Mercury play on the 28th!
She Doesn't Find the Time…She Makes the Time
In addition to running Aleena's LemonAid Stand on the weekends and organizing Girls for Progress, Aleena balances school, family life, sports and fun. "Homework is always done as soon as I get home from school," Aleena explains. After that? "Work on Girls for Progress and Aleena's LemonAid Stand stuff, go to football practice, come home and maybe play XBOX if there is time."
Why football? "It's my favorite sport," Aleena shares. "After watching my brother at his games, I knew I wanted to play too."
In fact, Aleena's experiences on the field play a role in her keynote speech at Girls for Progress: Just a Girl.
Aleena confides, "Being a girl in a league with mostly boys, it's hard to get taken serious when they look at me. I feel like people dismiss me and my abilities before they even see me play. But it feels good when they let me know how well I played after the game, even though they weren't expecting that."
The one thing she always makes time for? Family.
"Family life is all the time," she says. "I am very close with my family and we do a lot of things together."
They use sports and the LemonAid Stand as opportunities to spend time together, but they make sure to set aside time for fun, too. She's even used our lip balm kit as a chance to get in a fun experience with her cousins!
Family is integrated into everything. "We have fun doing whatever we are doing," she says.
Overcoming Challenges With Bravery & Dedication
In sports and in business, Aleena has had to rely on her courage and clarity of purpose. She has some excellent advice for other girls who might be afraid to put themselves out there, whether it's writing, speaking, or just being themselves.
"It can be scary because you don't know what other people's reaction will be," she admits. "One time, I was interviewed on television about an award I received for the work I do with the LemonAid Stand."
Aleena's initial excitement turned to shock when the station shared the interview on social media.
She recalls, "I saw some of the comments that people wrote about me [online] and the names they called me. It was tough because I was not expecting that at all. What I learned is that someone will always have something to say about you. But if you believe in what you are doing and feel that it is right, then that is all that matters.
"You are what matters, not what people say."
What's next for Aleena Valdez? I'd say anything is possible with her mindset, commitment and passion.
You can find out more about the Girls for Progress Conference on August 27, 2016 at the conference website (https://girlsforprogress.com). If you are interested in learning about Aleena's LemonAid Stand, check out the business website (http://aleenaslemonaid.com).