When 4-year-old Jenna and 2-year-old James Laufer wanted to set up a lemonade stand in 2011, their mom, Jill Gelfenbien, was game, with one condition: They had to use their profits to benefit others. They talked about places that impact the lives of kids, and Connecticut Children’s was chosen as the beneficiary of the first annual J & J’s Lemonade Stand. Since then, these young fundraisers have raised thousands of dollars with support from their community and the Create Your Own Fundraiser program offered by Connecticut Children’s Medical Center Foundation.
That first summer, the kids set up a table in the family’s Wethersfield front yard, and neighbors were generous. They raised $40. Jill took them shopping to choose items useful for pediatric patients: soft blocks, sippy cups and pacifiers.
Fundraising Becomes Personal
In 2014, James and Jenna were inspired to set up shop again, when the impact of Connecticut Children’s got personal. Jill, a math teacher in Glastonbury, was tutoring15-year-old Morgan Bjarno over the summer. Morgan, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) on April 12, 2013, had missed classes during the 2013-2014 school year, while undergoing cancer treatment at Connecticut Children’s. ALL, a fast-growing type of blood cancer, had transformed Morgan’s normal high school routine into a two-plus-year cancer battle.
Jenna and James accompanied their mom and played while Jill worked to get Morgan caught up in math. The kids learned that patients miss a lot of school when they’re receiving life-saving medical treatment, and they were more inspired than ever. They figured if they could raise more, they could give more to Connecticut Children’s, and investments in new treatments could help get kids like Morgan back to school faster.
J & J’s Lemonade Stand has built a dedicated following in Wethersfield, where the family lives. Neighbors pitch in and the pop-up refreshment stand attracts residents throughout the community—even members of the local fire department stopped in for a sweet sip last summer.
“I love seeing how many people come back each year and support the stand,” says Jenna. James appreciates the consistent help of others who help make J & J’s a success: “We mix up the lemonade in the kitchen in a big container,” he explains, “but it’s too heavy for us to carry, so our neighbor always comes over to carry it to the lawn for us.”
And children, like Bella Caiola, are also willing to help. Bella, who was born 11 weeks early, weighing just 2 pounds, 11 ounces, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as an infant. In 2019, when she learned about J & J’s Lemonade Stand from Jill, her teacher, Bella offered to serve as an ambassador for the successful enterprise.
Create Your Own Fundraiser Goes High Tech
While they have a strong turnout each year, some people are unable to make it in person, and these entrepreneurial kids don’t want to leave any money on the table that could help kids in the hospital. The Laufer-Gelfenbien family has worked with the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center Foundation’s Create Your Own Fundraiser program to set up a virtual lemonade stand.
Since going high-tech, J & J’s has grown into one of the most successful individual lemonade stand raising funds to support the Greatest Need Children’s Fund, drawing support from as far away as South Korea! After tallying up proceeds from their seventh event in 2019, J & J’s Lemonade Stand had raised more than $22,000 for Connecticut Children’s.
“I think what Jenna and James are doing is remarkable,” said Morgan who, today at 22, is a graduate of Providence College and works for Willis Towers Watson in downtown Hartford as an analyst on the Hartford Brokerage and Advisory Team. “The fact that they started when they were young and have continued the lemonade stand tradition despite their busy lives as active kids is awesome!”
Running the lemonade stand provides plenty of practical lessons, too—marketing, financial management and food preparation and safety. But when asked about what they’ve gained from their summer enterprise, James, now 10, and Jenna, who will be 13 at the end of May, have similar answers: “We’ve learned how important it is to care for other people.”
And that may be the sweetest lesson of all.
To learn more about creating your own fundraiser in support of world-class patient care at Connecticut Children’s, go to connecticutchildrensfoundation.org/host.