Teach Them Young: Lemonade Stand Raises Money for Sick Kids at NYP/Columbia


By Lindsay Gandolfo

When Luisa (5), her three cousins, and little brother Enzo (2) wanted to have a lemonade stand at the beach this summer, their parents had one question: Where do you want to donate the money?

This type of philanthropic prompt was not new to Luisa. It’s the norm; the anchor of their family’s ethos and something she had already been thinking about while planning the lemonade stand. “Giving is an art form, and we try to teach our children that anyone can give back.” says their dad, William Villafranco. “This is something we live. Our entire family does too.”

Luisa, narrowing it down on her own, determined that she wanted the money to help sick kids at Columbia. Her parents weren’t surprised. She had watched her little brother Enzo undergo two procedures at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital (MSCHONY), one for tongue tie and more recently for a blocked tear duct. And Steve Stylianos, MD, Chief of Pediatric Surgery, has been a fixture in their family for quite some time.

“I have four daughters from my previous marriage. They range from age 26 to 31. And we always instilled in them the importance of giving, showed them by example with our private foundation Footprints in the Sand, which we started after losing a son at birth. It helps families experiencing tragedy,” explains Mr. Villafranco. “But through my oldest daughter, that’s how Steve Stylianos jumped into my life so many years ago.”

When his oldest daughter, Amanda, was playing soccer, she endured an injury that required surgery. They have maintained a relationship with Dr. Stylianos ever since. “Dr. Stylianos is probably the most humble man I have ever met in my life,” says Mr. Villafranco. “He taught me so much on top of what my parents taught me about giving back. He taught me how to use anything, like soccer, as a platform.”

Empathy is a thing best learned through practice. It’s hard to break the cycle of giving once it starts; the act  itself is contagious. So, even if their 2-year-old son Enzo doesn’t yet grasp what’s going on, he does pick up on the good feeling it creates. “With the holiday season, I've thought about how we could continue to instill this in even our two youngest children. I took Enzo to Target the other day and I said, ‘We're going to donate bags of food to your school for people who don't have food for Thanksgiving,’" says their mom, Cortney Villafranco. “I don't know how much sunk in at two, but what he got to do was run through the food aisle at Target and throw canned goods into the grocery cart, within my jurisdiction. And he knew that we were filling the bags for others.”

Luisa and her cousin Andie with their first customer, Doug the ice cream man.

On the day of their lemonade stand, the kids decided that they also wanted to sell painted shells. “So, it was a lemonade and shell stand,” says Ms. Villafranco. “And neighbors, everyone who stopped by, wanted to know the same thing ‘Why did you pick Columbia? That’s such a great place.’ And Luisa would say ‘My brother had to go there.’”

The kids wanted to talk about what they were doing. They were enthusiastic, running and shouting their philanthropic efforts up and down the street. They wanted to share with other kids who stopped by too. “That becomes cyclical, systemic. Even if they touched one person of the 50 or so who stopped by then they made a difference,” says Ms. Villafranco.

“When I asked Luisa what she remembers most from that day she said, ‘I felt so happy and proud that we were able to give people lemonade on a hot day and raise money for the patients at Columbia Hospital,’” recalls her mom. 

“It's turning this idea of entitlement into a real conversation about real life at the youngest possible age. Cortney's a magician at it,” says Mr. Villafranco. “It makes me so proud of all my kids and our kids, because they're just really good people that like to help other people.”

Thinking about the impact a person can make if they start out so young is pretty incredible; all the lives Luisa and Enzo may touch along the way. When all was said and done and the lemonade stand closed up shop for the evening, the kids raised a whopping 82 dollars. And following in their parents’ footsteps, they plan to raise more every year.

Let’s allow their generous spirit guide us all this holiday season, and bring a little of Luisa, Enzo, and the entire Villafranco family’s enthusiasm to help others into our homes and hearts.

Learn more about the Villafranco family Foundation affiliations:

Footprints in the Sand Foundation is a 501 c (3) non-profit, public charity organization dedicated to helping individuals less than 18 years old by giving them an opportunity to participate in group or one-on-one therapy to cope with a death, illness or divorce.

myFace is a non-profit organization dedicated to changing the faces – and transforming the lives – of children and adults with craniofacial differences.

Links for Further Reading 

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