Whether it’s founding a successful charitable organization, writing a book, or being a role model for Generation Z, 17-year-old Lulu Cerone has done it all. Lulu, an L.A. native, has been helping others since she first hit double digits. While most ten-year-olds might spend the majority of their time playing with toys and watching TV, Lulu, before she was even a pre-teen, founded LemonAID Warriors, a group that encourages youth to make social activism a part of their daily lives.
In 2017, Lulu penned a fantastic party-planning book called Philanthroparties, which helps children and teens give back in a fun way. In other words, she teaches all of us how to party with a purpose. Since beginning her philanthropic endeavors, Lulu has helped raise over $100,000 for both local and global causes, and as noted on her website, LemonAID Warriors’ action plans have been downloaded over 165,000 times.
In her interview with The Zeitgeist, Lulu shares everything from the challenges she faced when launching LemonAID Warriors to her advice to young people who aspire to be more engaged in their communities. It is an honor to feature such a wonderful and inspiring young woman on The Zeitgeist this month.
At merely ten years old, you felt compelled to help others on a global scale after the devastating Haiti Earthquake in 2010. What initially inspired you to help people you’ve never met?
I find that young kids tend to make real connections to causes that impact other children, and that was definitely the case with me. I remember my parents telling me about the earthquake and feeling very sad, but the moment when I gained perspective was when I saw pictures of kids my age and younger whose homes had been completely destroyed. That was really powerful for me, since it humanized the event and gave me a sense of my own privileges. I realized that even though I was young, I was still in a position to act.
Your first lemonade stand led to the founding of LemonAID Warriors. What motivated you to keep pursuing philanthropic endeavors?
When I raised money to send to Haiti through lemonade stands, I involved my friends and schoolmates in my efforts, and we actually had a great time. Lemonade stands were a fun way to hang out with friends while also coming together and helping others in need. Soon, because of these efforts to raise relief funds for Haiti, I saw how the desire to give back really became infectious at my school. I had classmates coming up to me daily, telling me about current events or causes that they cared about and asking me to organize more fundraisers. I put it together that integrating social activism into actual social events was a really effective way to engage people my age and inspire them to take tangible action themselves. So, I started integrating giving back into all kinds of social gatherings and parties, events that I like to call PhilanthroParties, and started my nonprofit LemonAID Warriors to share these ideas with other young people.
What were some challenges you faced when first starting LemonAID Warriors, and how did you overcome them?
I think the biggest challenge that LemonAID Warriors faced as an organization was gaining nonprofit status (so much paperwork!!) but my own biggest challenge has always been balancing nonprofit management with schoolwork and extracurriculars. Running an organization and writing a book on top of AP homework and school musical rehearsals is not an easy task, but I figured out a way to work out my schedule (even though it definitely took a while!).
Your recently published book, PhilanthroParties, is a fantastic guide about how to help others while having fun. How did the idea for the book come about, and what prompted you to write it in the first place?
I’ve wanted to publish a philanthropic party-planning book pretty much since I started LemonAID Warriors. I definitely got some strange looks at first, since everything’s digital these days and there are so many online platforms available for people to spread their messages, but there’s something so permanent about the written word that I love. And also I’m a big fan pretty DIY books! PhilanthroParties! reallyfunctions as a standard party-planning guide, laying out 36 parties complete with recipes, decorations, and crafts, except what sets it apart is that every party is accompanied by a cause and positively benefits the world in some way. It’s really satisfying to be able to hold it in my hands and physically pass on my message to other young people.
If you had to pick your favorite PhilanthroParty idea, which would you choose?
This is always such a hard question to answer! There are many kinds of PhilanthroParties in my book, many of which raise money or collect donations, but there are also others that simply aim to spread kindness, which is really at the heart of philanthropy anyway. For example, there’s an April Fool’s Day party (which happens to also be my birthday!) where one of the activities asks guests to “prank it forward” by positively surprising people in their community, for example through filling a stranger’s meter or writing a letter to someone who might need it, like an elderly neighbor. Not everyone is in a position where it’s possible to collect donations, which is why I particularly like the kindness-centered PhilanthroParties.
Earlier this year, you were selected as one of the 2017 Women of Worth honorees by L’Oréal Paris for your work with LemonAID Warriors. What was that experience like?
It was incredible! It’s amazing how L’Oréal uses their huge platform to support women with important messages. I met so many amazing individuals at the Women of Worth gala who I plan on working with in the future, and I’m especially grateful because the donation I received is going to make a huge difference in my current projects with a partner orphanage in Tijuana.
In addition to everything else, you’re now a freshman at Columbia University. So far, what has been your favorite aspect of college?
The freedom!! It’s kind of overwhelming to be so completely in charge of my life for the first time, but there’s also so much freedom that comes along with that. I also totally love my school and my classes, and the student culture is really big on social justice so I definitely feel at home. And being a New Yorker is pretty cool.
You also regularly make short films, which is something I love to do as well. Can you elaborate a bit more about your work? I do! I’m actually a Film Studies major as of now, which tends to surprise people, since my work with LemonAID Warriors makes it seem like I’d take more of a traditional political or diplomatic route. But I think film can be very political, both as both a platform for artistic expression and a as a powerful tool for social justice. Film can expose and explore social problems and create awareness unlike any other artistic medium in my opinion. I try to capture social problems through many of my personal film projects, although others are sort of more abstract explorations of my own internal monologue.
Who are some of your personal and professional role models?
I really find that I’m most inspired by activists my age. Like Val Weisler for example, who was a fellow 2017 Woman of Worth. She’s 19 and has accomplished so much through her social justice initiative called The Validation Project. I also look up to so many cool women and femme people, like Greta Gerwig and Ella Yelich-O’Connor, who are making films or music or art or contributing their perspective to the world in some creative way.
What is something someone would be surprised to learn about you?
I’m a big time horror enthusiast and love all things spooky. I’m also fascinated by the occult and read tarot cards.
What piece of advice do you have to share with people who aspire to become more involved in social activism?
Trust yourself. It’s really easy to feel insignificant, or that what you’re doing won’t actually make a difference, but even if you won’t directly solve a problem yourself you can still contribute to the solution. If you’re in a position where you can help others, then do it, and know that your work matters.
What’s next for you?
I honestly have no idea! My longtime friend and lead volunteer Madi is currently serving as LemonAID Warriors’ president while I focus on my studies in college and work on developing new projects. I’m really interested in LGBTQ+ rights, and I feel like work may take a turn in that direction soon. No matter what happens or what path I take though, I know that activism is going to play a big role in my future.