Thirteen-year-old Ella Madison is out to change the world – and she’s off to a pretty great start. That’s why Justice, a tween girls clothing company that “promotes a positive sense of self and the celebration of every girl,” recently honored Ella at their annual Live Justice Awards.
Ella was largely recognized because of her ongoing volunteer work with Our Saviour’s shelter. She and her family first came to the shelter to serve a meal, and they kept coming back. Then, Ella learned that breakfast was one of residents’ greatest needs and thought, “This is something I need to help out with.”
Becoming the Cereal Superhero
One Monday nearly three years ago, Our Saviour’s sent out an urgent donation request because the shelter was entirely out of cereal. Ella showed up the next day with 150 boxes of cereal.
Since then, she has organized a total of seven cereal drives, primarily asking neighbors for donations and even partnering with a few local businesses. Through her efforts, Ella has become known as Our Saviour’s Cereal Superhero, the shelter’s number one cereal provider.
“To go out every day, not being nourished – if your body isn’t nourished, your brain isn’t nourished. Breakfast is just really important, and I wanted to make sure that people have it every day.”
Connecting with Residents
Ella’s volunteer work gives her the opportunity to get to know some of the shelter residents. She remembers one resident she connected with every time she came to serve a meal. They’d talk and play a board game – until recently. The last time Ella went to the shelter, the resident was gone, but the reason was a happy one. “He found housing! I was sad because he’s gone, but at the same time you have to be excited for [him]. The separation is sad, but the actual turnout is good.”
Connecting with residents as fellow human beings has changed the way Ella talks about homelessness too. She’s careful to make the distinction that people at the shelter are not just homeless. They’re people experiencing homelessness. “There’s such a stigma with homelessness, that it’s their fault, they got themselves there. It’s not really their fault. They still deserve love and to be treated the same as us.”
“There’s such a stigma with homelessness, that it’s their fault, they got themselves there. It’s not really their fault. They still deserve love and to be treated the same as us.”
Discovering an Early Passion
Ask Ella when her interest in homelessness started, and she’ll tell you it goes back as far as she can remember. From an early age, whenever Ella passed someone holding a sign on a street corner, she’d ask her parents what it meant. She says, “Before I even knew what those signs said, I knew they needed something.”
As Ella got older, she grew more insistent about never passing someone on the street without helping in some way. She’d tell her mom, “They said they needed food. Let’s go.” Her mom would try to tell her that she can’t help everyone. But Ella wouldn’t take that for an answer, responding, “Yeah, you can. We just need to work harder to do it.” She always managed to get her parents to buy a sandwich or other item to share. Now, through her cereal drives, Ella has found one thing within her power to help as many people as possible.
Growing the Circle of Impact
Although Ella’s proud of the work she’s already done, she has no intention of stopping here. In fact, she says she wants to be a “social activist” when she grows up. “I want to be a voice for people who can’t speak for themselves. Not that people don’t have a voice, but either they’re nervous about saying something or their voice isn’t being heard. They’ve been shut down so many times.” For her, the work is as simple as “loving people, hearing their story, and then speaking up for what they’re really going through.”
Ella’s also inspired other girls to start their own drives, and she’s excited about the effort growing to wider circles. “It was cool to see I’m actually making an impact on them. I’m inspiring other girls to do that. My goal is to feed people, and I can’t do it myself. So seeing that these girls are doing it, I’m actually able to make an impact on a bigger community.”
“To me, being an activist is loving people, hearing their story, and then speaking up for what they’re really going through.”
Ella’s grateful for the opportunity Justice has provided her through the Live Justice Award and other events to grow in confidence and cultivate her passion. She’s also grateful to have a larger platform to amplify her message. “Having a platform, you need to use it for a benefit, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do.”
As part of her award, Ella received a $5,000 donation to give on her behalf to any organization. Ella’s response was immediate. She awarded the $5,000 to Our Saviour’s Housing! For her, it was never even a question. “If [my volunteer work] is the reason I’m getting awarded for this, then obviously it’s going back to them. It was like, it’s going to be a circle effect.”
Thank you Justice, and thank you, Ella, for your dedication to the residents at Our Saviour’s Housing!
Watch Ella receive her award and listen to her awesome speech about changing the world “one cereal box at a time!”