Passion for charity drives teen
January 28, 2014 11:00 AM
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MAHTOMEDI, Minn. — No one can explain what drives Amanda Sexson.

The Mahtomedi 18-year-old has been a human fundraising machine for 12 years.

“I have passion wired into me,” said Sexson, which doesn’t entirely explain how she has been able to raise about $70,000 in more than 30 fundraisers.

[PHOTO: Mahtomedi High School seniors Amanda Sexson, left, and Maddy Gildersleeve have some fun while producing a short promotional video for an upcoming fundraiser sponsored by their group, Hearts4Charity, in White Bear Lake, Minn. on Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014.  Sexson, who held her first fundraising event at age 5, has been able to raise about $70,000 in more than 30 fundraiser's.  Her group, Hearts4Charity, has made an impact unheard-of in teen charity groups, with 40 members, a website, nonprofit status, a board of directors and even a program to award grants to other charity-minded teens.  (AP Photo/The St. Paul Pioneer Press, Chris Polydoroff)]

Her group, Hearts4Charity, has made an impact unheard-of in teen charity groups, with 40 members, a website, nonprofit status, a board of directors and even a program to award grants to other charity-minded teens.

Sexson isn’t in a rut, doing the same fundraisers for the same causes. Most of the group’s events are creative — such as the upcoming dance-a-thon to raise money to prevent domestic abuse.

“We are definitely unique,” said Maddy Gildersleeve, the group’s outreach leader.

Whatever drives Sexson began Sept. 11, 2001.

That’s when she saw the World Trade Center towers collapse on TV. Overwhelmed, she marched out onto her driveway and started selling suckers to raise money for the victims.

She was 5 years old.

The outburst of charity wasn’t a passing childhood fancy.

Sexson branched out, selling lemonade with neighborhood friends.

“Then it developed into more than a lemonade stand,” she said.

“It was birdhouses, brownies, Kool-Aid, anything we could think of.”

Her gang of juvenile philanthropists moved from one fundraiser to the next. They bagged groceries for tips. They washed cars. They sold hand-knit scarves for a neighbor family — the mom had Lou Gehrig’s disease, and the dad had bone cancer.

For four years, they filled shoeboxes with gifts for Operation Christmas Child, which sends supplies to needy children overseas.

She worked for causes related to Haiti for years, and traveled there with her mother after the 2010 earthquake.

“It changed my perspective on the world,” Sexson said. “I got some insight into suffering, and the reality that people live in.”

The group started fundraisers for anyone who needed help. It sponsored a 5K run in May to help a local family that was scammed when they tried to adopt a child from Haiti.

The events grew bigger and more complicated, giving Sexson’s charity team some real-life lessons about management, marketing and promotions.

Last summer, she got the idea to ask country music singer Katie Armiger to perform a fundraising concert. The singer was already performing in Minnesota, and Sexson figured Armiger might drop by for a Mahtomedi fundraiser.

To Sexson’s surprise, Armiger agreed.

Then came a blizzard of annoying details.

“At first we envisioned it in Amanda’s backyard,” outreach leader Gildersleeve said.

“Then we realized how over our heads we were.”

The first problem? Money.

“At the start of it, it was a mess. We had $7 in the bank,” Gildersleeve said.

The group sought advice from concert promoters. “They told us we were crazy. They had not heard of adults doing this, let alone 17-year-olds,” Gildersleeve said. “But they were impressed with us.”

The concert was the group’s most successful event ever, bringing in $13,000.

Hearts4Charity funneled the money into various charities, including its own program to give $300 grants to teenagers who want to establish other fundraisers.

“We empower other students,” Sexson said.

What’s ahead for Sexson? Scanning the horizon for someone — anyone — who needs help, then working effectively to help them.

“It’s not just about the money. We try to educate the community, based on causes we raise money for,” Sexson said.

“It has always been something that is a part of me.”

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