How Talia Leman Built Charity Empire

Iowa Teen Raised $10 Million — And Kept On Going

Campaigning Future: New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wants Talia Leman to run for president in 2044.
Courtesy Talia Leman
Campaigning Future: New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wants Talia Leman to run for president in 2044.

By Curt Schleier

Published November 19, 2012, issue of November 16, 2012.
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Following Hurricane Katrina, donations poured in from concerned folks all around the country hoping to help make things better. They came in all sizes, with big bucks coming from the usual suspects: Wal-Mart, Exxon Mobil, Amaco and Talia Leman.

Talia Leman?

At the time, Leman was a 10-year-old fifth-grader who lived in Waukee, Iowa, two towns west of Des Moines. She started a charity that prompted kids around the country to go out and trick-or-treat for New Orleans. She ultimately raised $10 million. That is TEN MILLION DOLLARS.

Read all the stories in the Forward’s 2012 Giving section.

She subsequently went on to found RandomKid, a nonprofit that provides kids who want to raise funds for a charitable cause with ideas, resources and tools. To date, 12 million children in 20 countries have used RandomKid assistance to help raise funds.

This and her other efforts prompted New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof to throw his support behind Leman “for President in 2044.”

Talia, now 17, spoke to the Forward’s Curt Schleier about her post-Katrina work, tikkun olam and her plans for the future.

Curt Schleier: How did this all begin?

Talia Leman: I was in the park and saw my friend from ballet class selling lemonade trying to raise money for Hurricane Katrina [relief]. I saw a lot of cars were going by, but weren’t stopping. Not because they didn’t care, but they didn’t have enough time. I felt there was a more efficient way to help.

So you came up with the idea for TLC — Trick or Treat for the Levee Catastrophe. What was your goal?

I had a plan to raise $1 million. Of course, honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t think setting a goal of $1 million was all that much. I heard on the news that millions of dollars had already been raised. I was studying fractions in school, and I figured I could raise a fraction of that.

Your plan didn’t win unanimous support in your family, did it? Your brother, Zander, who is on the autism spectrum, was against it from the get-go.

Yes. He said, “I’m opposed to what you’re doing. I’d rather trick or treat for pirate relief.” I’d given myself the CEO title — chief executive optimist — and I gave him the title of chief operating nemesis. I put him on our makeshift website in a Darth Vader costume. And the “Today” show saw the picture.


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