Diego came to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital from El Salvador to be treated for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He did well at the beginning, even surviving cancer twice. But sadly, in 2019, Diego passed away.
It’s a story we hear all too often, even as overall childhood cancer survival rates in this country have risen from less than 20 percent when St. Jude opened in 1962, to more than 80 percent today.
But there’s another story we hear again and again as well. A story of inspiration. A story of drive and determination to help, give back and ensure no other families go through what Diego’s family did.
Isabella Ramos-Bergudo is writing that story for others in El Salvador and around the world to follow. She was 9 years old when her friend Diego passed away. The experience inspired her to learn even more about the mission, and her membership in it St. Jude Leadership Society has helped focus her purpose and support for St. Jude in Diego’s memory.
In El Salvador, a country with little charitable giving, 14-year-old Isabella defied the odds by creating three do-it-yourself events that raised $2,800 in support of St. Jude. What’s more, she engaged people in her community, helping spread awareness for this global mission.
Isabella was in Memphis last week with 150 members, mentors, and parents of the St. Jude Leadership Society, a group of high-performing high school students who share a passion for leadership, service, and community.
Every time I get the chance to speak to this audience, as I did last week, I’m energized. My passion for this mission is renewed. This group was impassioned and motivated by the mission of St. Jude and the seven universal leadership traits: grit, integrity, empathy, awareness, courage, gratitude and inspiration.
I saw it all on display as they shared their leadership journey with their peers, and their why for supporting the mission of St. Jude. Some were childhood cancer survivors themselves, while others had a sibling or friend with cancer. Others had no connection to cancer, but just wanted to put some good back into a world where there is far too much pain and division.
Kindness is contagious. I truly believe that. And it warms my heart to see kindness begin with this younger generation that was raised on technology, whose connections, some might think, are strictly virtual. That’s not the case. Their empathy and compassion are deeply rooted, and their purpose is clear — they want to be part of a cause larger than themselves.
I heard it again and again as we spoke last week. This is a generation of leaders, willing and more than able to harness their knowledge and skills and heart to make the world they’ll inherit a better place.
This generation will do more to feed the hungry, house the homeless and care for the sick than we’ve ever seen before. With the drive and determination of supporters like Isabella, St. Jude will spread its arms further around the world to love and care for more children and give hope to more families like Diego’s.
“My greatest teaching is that you don’t need to be an adult to be a leader, to inspire others and to make a difference for such an amazing cause that has a great legacy,” Isabella said, “and that in life you can achieve anything if you work hard, you’re focused and if you fight to make that happen.”