Grace McCunn is your average 13-year-old. She competes in soccer, plays the trumpet in band, sings in her schoolâ€™s choir and is active with her church. She spends weekends hanging out with friends, going to camp and spending time with family.
She also has made a name for herself in the community by raising more than $50,000 to date for Blank Childrenâ€™s Hospital in Des Moines. Currently, she is gearing up to continue fundraising for the yearâ€™s third-annual Amazing Grace Lemonade Race on Saturday, July 27, at Ada Hayden Heritage Park in Ames.
â€œSimple things add up, and just by helping people who donâ€™t have as much as you, or who are going through something, it helps them out,â€ the soon-to-be freshman at Ames High School said. â€œWe want people to come out (to the race), see what itâ€™s like, and help us raise more money for Blank.â€
She doesnâ€™t consider herself a local celebrity or hero, despite the handful of awards, recognitions and even an award-winning documentary suggesting otherwise. She says she is just an average teenager who happens to have a passion for helping people in need.
â€œI like the recognition but, at the same time, I donâ€™t always need it. I just want to do something to help out some kids,â€ she said. â€œI am a normal person. I have a life outside of what I am doing to help other people. I just love doing it, and itâ€™s a passion I have.â€
It all started when Grace, along with her older sister, was diagnosed with chronic daily migraines while in fifth grade. She spent a lot of time in the hospital, and noticed there were few toys, movies, books and games for her age group to enjoy. She decided this was something she could help remedy.
â€œI decided to start a lemonade stand on the corner of my street,â€ she said. â€œMy brother, sister and I, when we were younger, would always do them for fun to raise money for ourselves. I took that experience and thought about how I could use it to give back rather than keeping it for myself.â€
She charged 25 cents per cup over the next week, and proudly donated her first check to Blank Childrenâ€™s Hospital.
â€œI think the first check was about $100,â€ she said. â€œI always tell people that itâ€™s not a lot, but things add up very quickly and small changes can lead to big changes.â€
When Grace was at the hospital to donate the check, she noticed a wall of bricks with donor names. She asked how she could get one, and was told a donor brick would involve a donation of more than $10,000. The number did not scare Grace away. Instead, it made her more determined.
As she worked toward her new goal, Grace became well-known throughout the community for her fundraising efforts, ranging from lemonade and hot chocolate stands, to coin and toy drives, with money raised going toward the hospitalâ€™s neurology department and cancer center. Eventually, she reached her goal and became the youngest person to have a brick on the donor wall.
However, meeting that goal did not satisfy her need to help those being treated at Blank Childrenâ€™s Hospital. She said knowing there are kids who do not get to go home and be healthy, who can benefit from the funds she raises, serves as a constant motivator.
â€œPeople take life for granted very easily, and those kids â€” even when they have bad days â€” they have a smile on their face. I do this for them. I put in all the effort for them because I want them to have their full potential,â€ Grace said.
Grace and her mom, Mary Jane McCunn, started thinking of new ways to raise money, and to raise more money than a lemonade stand could generate, about three years ago. They noticed a number of groups throughout the community were drawing interest with races, and decided to organize their own 5k walk/run to benefit the hospital.
Mary Jane said she, along with her husband and Grace, set a date for the first race, allotting about three weeks for planning and organizing. Having no experience in this type of event, they enlisted the help of friends, family members, and neighbors to pull it all together in time.
â€œItâ€™s a big undertaking. Itâ€™s huge. Itâ€™s a lot of fun, but it gets pretty stressful,â€ Mary Jane said.
Now, with more planning experience under their belt, they spend months planning for the event. Grace hopes the event will help her meet her goal to raise a hefty $15,000 for Blank Childrenâ€™s Hospital this year.
Proceeds from this yearâ€™s race will be donated to Blank Childrenâ€™s Hospitalâ€™s Developmental Center and Star Center in West Des Moines. The Developmental Center helps children who have ADHD, autism, down syndrome, birth defects, hearing and vision impairments, learning and attention disorders, genetic anomalies, and sensory and language disorders. The Star Center helps children who have been abused mentally, sexually and physically.
â€œLast year, we had about 130 runners, and this year I hope we can get around 150. That would be a good number, though I would love it if we had even more,â€ Mary Jane said. â€œThe more people we get, the more money we will have to donate.â€
The race will kick off at 7:30 a.m. with the eventâ€™s first-ever kids run, for children aged between two and five years old. Grace said she decided to involve young kids in the race, â€œsince Iâ€™m giving all my money to kids.â€
The 5k walk/run will start at 8 a.m., with online registration due by 5 p.m. on Friday, July 26. Participants will pick up their race packets beginning at 6 a.m. the day of the event. Mary Jane said they encourage everyone to participate in the event, no matter their age or ability.
â€œItâ€™s for everyone, no matter if youâ€™re young or old. You can walk, you can run, whatever. If you canâ€™t come, you can still send a donation. Itâ€™s to get families involved, because it is for families,â€ she said. â€œHopefully, the event will inspire others to donate, because there are so many families that need help.â€
Former Iowa State University basketball players Georges Niang, now a professional player for the Utah Jazz, and Naz Mitrou-Long, who recently joined the Cleveland Cavaliers for the 2019 NBA Summer League, are expected to participate in Saturdayâ€™s race. ISU football, soccer and basketball players will also attend.
People interested in registering for the race or donating to Graceâ€™s fundraising goal can learn more at https://www.runreg.com/graces-lemonade-race3.
While Grace is busy preparing for the race, she is already looking ahead at what future events can bring and what future goals she can reach.
â€œIâ€™ve always wanted to keep doing it, to keep supporting Blank and showing others how you have to put others before yourself,â€ she said. â€œMy goal for the future, and it wonâ€™t be anytime soon, but it would be to reach $100,000. That will take time, which is fine by me.â€
Grace was presented with a check for $10,000 in March, which she immediately donated to Blank Childrenâ€™s Hospital, and was named U.S. Cellularâ€™s The Future of Good 16 under 16. She was also honored as the 2018 Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy by the Central Iowa Association of Fundraising Professionals in November, 2018.
When asked what advice she would give to others who are interested in helping to support a cause, she said, â€œIâ€™d tell them they have the ability to do anything. I didnâ€™t think I had the ability to do this, but I did. Some people donâ€™t think that kids can do as much as adults, but kids can do almost just as much as adults can do. They can do anything.â€