Honoree Spotlight

Talia Leman: The Power of One Kid

Just before Halloween in 2005, 10-year-old Talia Leman was sitting in her house in rural Iowa when she came up with a simple idea that would harness the power of young people across the country to make a difference in the lives of millions of other Americans.

On the Ground
Talia Leman – 2008 Founders Youth Award

Impact to date:

$11 million raised to mobilize the efforts of 12 million youth in 20 countries.


To provide staff and services to youth, of all backgrounds and abilities, for the development, management and accomplishment of their goals to help others.

Words of Wisdom:

“On our planned path of our greatest goals to life, and even the smallest ones, make room for the unexpected. Be free enough and brave enough to take a step sideways. Because miracles, by definition, can only appear in unexpected places.”

All of this started a month and a half earlier when powers of a more sinister kind devastated areas across the Gulf of Mexico. Like many other Americans, Talia and her family saw the aftereffects of Hurricane Katrina on television, watching helplessly as homes were destroyed and people were stranded among the rubble.

“Somehow, the sight of Katrina’s victims – crammed into that stadium, frightened and angry – really got to me,” said Talia in her presentation at the 2010 TEDxYSE: Unleashing Young Social Entrepreneurs.

With Halloween just around the corner, Talia decided to take action by asking for coins instead of candy, donating whatever she raised to help victims of the hurricane. She started a website asking other kids across the country to do the same. After posting an adorable picture of Talia’s younger brother in a Darth Vader costume, The Today Show caught wind of Talia’s idea. One day later, Talia found herself tracking donations from kids across the country. One week later, a grocery chain offered to print 8.5 million trick-or-treat bags across the country with Talia’s message on the front. The results were astounding.

“I set an early goal of raising one million dollars,” Talia said.

But in the end, the total amount of money raised blew her original goal out of the water. With the help of other young people across the nation, Talia reported more than $10 million, proving that youth indeed have the power to make an unbelievable difference in the world.

“Our brilliance is part of our physiology,” Talia said. “And it’s ubiquitous. From our technology to our music to our art to our ideas – to our sense of style – to our ability to rally, we are – by all measures – abundantly powerful.”

This realization in the power of kids sparked even bigger ideas in Talia’s mind. She knew that someone needed to connect youth with resources to turn their dreams of changing the world into a reality. Two years after her Katrina Relief fundraiser, Talia founded RandomKid, a nonprofit that provides staff and services to youth in order to solve real world problems. Through its web site, RandomKid has helped children in 48 states and 19 countries fund projects ranging from animal welfare to disaster relief.

In 2008, Talia was honored for her unbelievable impact on the United States and the world with the World of Children Founder’s Youth Award. To date, RandomKid has raised close to $11 million that has mobilized the efforts of 12 million children living in 20 countries around the world. Examples of some of RandomKid’s projects include helping to fund a school for 300 children in Cambodia; helping to fund and refurbish a school for 200 children in Slidell, Louisiana; providing an interactive play center serving 500 hospitalized kids in Iowa; and raising funds to buy water pumps in Africa.

Today, 17-year-old Talia is still the CEO of RandomKid and continues to dream big. She has won the Prudential Spirit of Community Award, the National Jefferson Award, the Presidential Volunteer Award and many others. Talia is currently a UNICEF National Ambassador and has been recognized as one of Glamour’s Amazing Young Woman of the Year and L’Oreal Paris’ Woman of Worth. New York Times journalist and 2009 World of Children Advocacy Award Honoree Nicholas Kristoff has even vowed to vote for Talia in the 2044 presidential elections. But despite the incredible growth of her organization and her prestigious recognition, Talia’s message remains the same.

“When we believe in the power that we each have,” Talia said, “we have the greatest power of all.”


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