If people are defined by the way they respond to tragedy, Alexandra Folleco is a champion. The junior at Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale lost her big sister, Daniella, when she was 8 and Daniella was 12 years old.
"She always had such a wonderful heart, she was a special girl, and she made an impact on everyone at the hospital," Alexandra said, recalling memories of Daniella. "We were always so connected as sisters."
Alexandra turned her personal grief into a way to honor her sister's memory. The Folleco family had already raised thousands of dollars to create Daniella's Atrium at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood. It’s a bright, airy spot decorated with Daniella’s own words and artwork. As soon as Alexandra was old enough, she started volunteering at the hospital, contributing to the emotional healing process for kids and their families.
"The fact that I know what it feels like to be in their shoes as well as my parents and family, friends and other family members, is wonderful and I feel like I can kind of pay it forward," Alexandra explained.
She's been going to the hospital at least once a week for the past three years, organizing projects to cheer up patients.
"Now Alexandra has taken up the cause and said, 'I can do meaningful things for this hospital where my sister was treated and continue that legacy' and she’s done an amazing job," said Kevin Jasner of the Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital Foundation. "I think it says we have a bright future when we have young people doing such meaningful things for our community and for others."
Alexandra doesn't do it alone. She's inspired her friends at school to get involved as well.
"I think it's a wonderful thing and I think anyone who knows the story, anyone who's part of the group is immediately inspired by her," said Pine Crest junior Tommy Sullivan, who has joined the volunteer effort at the hospital.
"I mean her desire to help people is just unbounded and I think it's a great thing, and I love how she's doing this to honor her sister," Kyle Mattone, a senior at Pine Crest, said. "She's always there, she’s helping people and it’s really just amazing."
Alexandra balances her demanding course load with serving on the JDCH Youth Advisory Council and the near-constant volunteer efforts, with her sister never far from her thoughts.
"I love what I do, and I do it from the heart," Alexandra said.