Dana Perella is not your typical 11-year-old. The founder of Cookies4Cures, a nonprofit that raises money for research into rare, pediatric diseases, Perella is on a mission to make a difference and save lives, one cookie at a time.
At just seven (on her seventh birthday to be exact), the Boulder, CO youngster decided she wanted to do something for her friend, Mila, who was diagnosed with a genetic disorder called Batten. So, she started baking cookies and then set off selling them out of a red wagon. Three years later Perella has a thriving business, raising thousands of dollars every year.
She’s been so successful – and inspirational – she was recently recognized for her work as a recipient of the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, a program of the nonprofit Young Heroes Project, which celebrates young people.
We caught up with her between baking to find out what fuels her, what it’s like to run a business and to hear advice she has for others who might (pardon the pun), want to start something from scratch.
Congrats on your success! What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned in running your own cookie business?
Baking one batch of cookies doesn’t take very long, but baking hundreds of cookies is pretty time consuming. We have a little kitchen and one small oven, so if each batch is like 10 minutes, it adds up really fast.
How does it make you feel to know that you’re helping to do so much at such a young age?
When I was really little I had a stutter and I met an amazing friend named Mila. On my seventh birthday, I found out that she had been diagnosed with a rare and fatal disease called Batten. I wanted to help so I started baking and selling cookies out of my red wagon in my neighborhood. I taped a sign to the side that said Cookies4Mila. So many people were inspired that my baking campaign took off. We raised a lot of money — $56,000! That money helped fund a new treatment for Mila’s form of Batten called Milasen. The day Mila got her first treatment, I felt like I could explode with happiness.
I help raise awareness and money for my friends’ rare diseases because helping them makes me feel like I can create a difference in the world and I can help improve their lives.
What words of advice do you have for other kids like you who might want to help make a difference in some way?
For any people out there who feel like they want to change the world but don’t know how, I have two pieces of advice. Number 1: Believe in yourself. You can never get anywhere unless you believe what you want to do is possible. Running my nonprofit has made me believe that I can make the impossible possible. Number 2: Just start. There are thousands of problems out there that you might want to plan for before you start. There’s too many and most of those things won’t go wrong anyway. And things you could never anticipate will go wrong. So instead of planning and planning, just start and meet problems as they happen.
What kinds of dreams do you have for the future?
I hope that some day every kid with a rare disease has access to treatments that can give them the best life possible. I hope that Cookies4Cures inspires kids everywhere to make a difference in the world. I’m so inspired by scientists that I hope to one day be a scientist myself.
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