This post was originally produced for Forbes.
Meghan Waldron is 15 years old, runs track for her high school, plays in the school orchestra and is working on a novel. She is remarkable in many ways. One way is that she has progeria, a condition so rare only about 300 kids in the world have it; few are expected to live past their 20th birthday–unless promising new treatments are found.
Waldron recently completed her first book, a children’s book called Running on the Wind about a bird born under a rock that doesn’t learn to fly but instead to run.
The book was published by The Red Fred Project, a nonprofit publishing company that helps “children who live in extraordinary circumstances” like Waldron’s to create a children’s book that will both serve as an adult-like achievement to bring a sense of fulfillment to their lives and as a lasting legacy, evidence that their short lives mattered. The company has now published ten books, is working on an 11th and on a plan to publish many more in the future.
“A life has meaning and purpose, no matter the age,” says Red Fred Project founder Dallas Graham, 41.
The nonprofit is funded almost entirely by donations. The books are professional quality and they are sold to help fund the costs, but producing books at that quality costs about $20,000, a cost that isn’t covered by book sales.
Some of the funding comes from the Doctorow Family Foundation. Executive Director Suzanne Larson says of the experience of seeing the young authors work published, “I see the look of astonishment, wonder and joy on the kid’s faces holding, touching, grasping palpable, tangible evidence of their accomplishment. I know their loved ones are experiencing all the same emotions from initial contact to book in hand. in addition, the effect ripples out to everyone who has contact with durable legacy produced. this is a gift of enormous magnitude.”
She also sees Graham as something of a kindred spirit, whom she describes as a “magician orchestrating the masterpiece.”
Graham finds a deep sense of purpose working with the creative kids. “I see them as wonderful creators only lacking certain skill-sets their adult counterparts have.”
Because many of the young people he works to help are limited in their physical ability, energy and capability, he enjoys finding a way to help them use their creativity, something that is unconstrained by their circumstances.
“I’m interested in creating something stemming from their imagination and collected and lived life experiences. A book is a wonderful model for this kind of expression and it’s been around for centuries,” Graham explains.
His goal is to help young people who may never reach adulthood–something he is reluctant to even acknowledge out of respect for their hopes and dreams–to leave their mark on the world. “Their lives have just as much value as yours or mine, but because of age or experience, perhaps those are not as equally measured as their adult counterparts.”
“As humans, much of our validation of who we are comes through what we produce or how we show up in the world with relation to others. The ripples caused by the creative act help us understand our placement among people and ideas,” he explains further.
The vehicle for helping the authors to leave a permanent legacy holds appeal to Graham as well. “Children’s books also seem to retain a certain understandability by their readers, that of trying to distill the essence of life into a simple, relatable story.”
Waldron’s book about the bird, Cassidy, that learned to run rather than fly ends with her learning to fly in her own unique way, running and flapping her wings at once. A perfect metaphor confirming Graham’s vision that each and every life has meaning and purpose.
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Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!