Teen Raises $32,000 to Fight Childhood Leukemia

Highlands Ranch student Ainsley Messenger awarded EY Youth Scholarship for her efforts.

Highlands Ranch teen Ainsley Messenger was “in shock” to learn that she was awarded a youth scholarship by Ernst & Young (EY), made possible by the company’s partnership with Junior Achievement (JA).

She was selected for the scholarship because of her enterprising spirit and efforts this past year to improve the community. The new Rock Canyon High School graduate sold beanie hats and raised funds, with proceeds benefiting Lolo’s Angels, a foundation supporting pediatric cancer research. She created the venture with a team of her peers in her business class while participating in the JA Company Program, which teaches students to fill a need or solve a problem in their community by launching a business, drawing on their entrepreneurial spirit.

To date, Ainsley has raised more than $32,000 by selling the hats and through other fundraising efforts, including partnering with restaurants and even directly requesting sponsorships from corporate CEOs.

“I sold a bunch of them at work, I sold a bunch walking around school, walking around the mall on the weekend, just trying to get anyone’s attention,” she says. “I found most people were incredibly interested, even if they didn’t buy a hat, people gave me money anyway to support the foundation, which is incredible, so I ended up raising even more money than expected. People fell in love with the mission.”

During a cancer charity bike ride she participated in a couple of years ago, Ainsley learned of William Maniatas, a younger teen living in her home town who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML)—a type of cancer diagnosed in 650 young people per year. It was there she met and became friends with his mother, who introduced her to Lolo’s Angels.

“I ran this campaign in honor of Will [who passed away in February 2020]. AML is not actually considered a pediatric cancer, but it’s not considered an adult cancer either, and therefore it’s almost entirely overlooked and it receives little to no funding worldwide,” Ainsley explains. “That’s why I chose Lolo’s Angels, because they fund AML research specifically.”

Ainsley facilitated purchasing the hats in bulk from a supplier at a low price point. In addition to selling hats, Ainsley had the idea to also print up stickers of drawings Will created, packaging them with the hats so there was a specific and emotional connection to him.

While working with product suppliers, handling sales, marketing, and finance—not to mention the determination and motivation required for these efforts—may be intimidating to many adults let alone teenagers, Ainsley had a wealth of knowledge to draw on from Rock Canyon’s business class and her participation in JA Finance Park, presented by Transamerica, and the JA High School Leaders program, in which high school students volunteer to lead lessons in elementary schools.

“JA has been instrumental in my ability to do all of this work. The teamwork on projects, learning about entrepreneurship, how to budget and do finances, how to plan ahead in a business, all of that has been incredibly helpful for setting up my campaign. And teaching JA lessons to younger classes really helps boost your confidence—that helped me when I was talking to the CEOs of different companies, so I was able to be confident and well prepared for my presentation. JA’s been incredible for me and a lot of my friends.”

EY is donating a $1,000 scholarship to Ainsley, who will be attending Indiana University in the Kelley School of Business this fall, majoring in management and minoring in nonprofit management and fundraising. She plans to continue her fundraising efforts while in college and hopes to start up a nonprofit foundation in the future.