Maya Rigler, a 10-year-old diagnosed in January with cancer for the second time, says she wants to be a philanthropist when she grows up.
The fifth grader from Radnor Township may already have reached that goal, raising more than $100,000 for pediatric cancer this year.
Brett Mezrow, also a fifth grader living in Radnor, was frustrated that research on mitochondrial disease was underfunded because not enough people know about it. Brett's best friend, Niels Strautnieks, was diagnosed at age 5.
So he encouraged Niels to speak out, and the two 11-year-olds have raised more than $1,500 in an awareness campaign they hope will soon go viral.
These children are part of a trend among youngsters who, whether motivated by adversity or altruism, are successfully raising support and money for charitable causes, experts say.
"Youth philanthropy is becoming more and more exciting and building traction across the country," said Katherine Scott, director of the youth philanthropy wing of the Frieda C. Cox Family Foundation in Los Angeles.
Part of the reason, Scott said, is young people are adept at using the Internet to connect with donors and organizations that already have achieved fund-raising success.
"Some of the most effective models are ones that combine models from elsewhere," Scott said. "You don't have to re-create the wheel."
On Jan. 27, two days after doctors discovered a tumor on Maya's pancreas - unrelated to a different form of cancer she defeated at age 2 - Maya and her parents set up a charitable Web page through Alex's Lemonade Stand, the Bala Cynwyd-based charity founded by Alexandra Scott, in 2000.
Within a week of creating the Web page, Maya, a student at Ithan Elementary School, had surpassed her initial goal of $10,000 and raised it to $50,000. By mid-March, she had reached $100,000 - the most ever raised for Alex's Lemonade Stand by a child in that amount of time. Now Maya has a new goal of $250,000.
"People raise money for years to reach that amount," said Liz Scott, Alexandra's mother, who with husband Jay met this month with Maya and her parents.
Added Jay Scott, "Usually it's a company that raises that type of money."
Richard Marker, a professor at New York University and a philanthropy consultant, said young people today aren't necessarily more concerned about issues than in the past, but that children and young adults may be more likely to connect and work with an established organization to spread their campaigns.
Maya's father, Peter Rigler, said their campaign had gone viral through the support of friends, family, and the local Jewish community. Both of Maya's parents are local rabbis.
It even reached Hollywood. Through Camp Harlem, a Reform Jewish summer camp based in Bala Cynwyd, the Riglers connected with actors Mayim Bialik and Seth Green, a camp alum, who spread the word across social media and helped the donations jump.
At Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, the Riglers also recently learned that one of the researchers working with Maya is funded through grants from Alex's Lemonade Stand.
"It's directly helping us," said Stacy Rigler, Maya's mother.
At the Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, Brett and Niels are trying to raise money for and awareness of mitochondrial disease. They have launched a video campaign they hope will go viral like last year's ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.
Their "Mito 5 Challenge" asks viewers to repeat the words mitochondrial disease five times fast on camera, then post the video to social media, encouraging friends to participate and donate $5.
The boys created the video after Brett urged Niels to speak out about the disease as part of a class project tasking students with raising awareness for an issue.
Niels, who had been shy about speaking publicly about the disease, is now the public face of the campaign the boys hope to continue into middle school.
"I just wanted the school to know," Niels said. "Brett wanted to go big."
"Niels has this story to tell, and Brett thinks it's pretty darn important that everyone gets it," said Meredith Hardy, Niels' mother. "These are people who are quietly dying because they don't have the energy to speak up."
The boys have raised more than $1,500 for the mitochondrial disease fund at Children's Hospital from donors at Shipley's lower and middle schools and online. They plan to pitch the campaign in April to Shipley's high schoolers, who they hope will help spread the campaign over social media. "When they came to me, they were like, 'We're taking over the world,' " said Usha Balamore, the assistant head of Shipley's lower school and head of character development. "They've had such a good start."