Going places, and fast

In the final episode of the great but short-lived TV series “SportsNight,” the cast and crew of the fictional equivalent of ESPN’s Sports Center fear their network is about to be acquired and their show wiped out.

It turns out that the suitor company is named Quo Vadimus. Only the show’s supersmart assistant producer Jeremy Goodwin remembers his academic Latin well enough to know the translation: “Where are we going?” As it happens, Quo Vadimus is run by a rather benevolent corporate raider type who recognizes the monster commercial value in Sports Night (as he says, “Anybody who can’t make money out of Sports Night should get out of the money-making business”), and the series ends with the show’s security ensured.


The concept of quo vadimus is a powerful one, challenging people to chart their future together in furtherance of a common dream. Rarely has such a concept been invoked more impressively in the name of philanthropy than by a 15-year-old from Iowa named Talia Leman.

Talia, who came to speak in St. Louis this week in two events (CAJE’s B’nai Tzedek, funded by the Kranzberg Family Foundation, was one of the supporters, along with the Lee Institute and Ladue Education Foundation) is the founder of RandomKid, a nonprofit organization she founded five years ago at the ripe old age of 10, after she became determined to raise funds for Hurricane Katrina relief. She must have done something right-her efforts resulted in a reported $10.5 million in assistance and propelled her to move forward with an organization that unites youth everywhere in support of philanthropic efforts.

Talia has been recognized as a Huggable Hero by the Build-a-Bear Foundation and was UNICEF’s first National Youth Ambassador. Her nonprofit Randomkid realizes the power of youth to effect constructive social change through their collective acts. Her website serves as a connector for kids who want to bring their passions to bear in furtherance of helping people and communities worldwide.

An examination of the organization’s website shows how powerfully her concept works (these are only a couple samples):

o A Step Forward for Haiti, to help the roughly 150,000 who have lost limbs in the earthquake. Kids donate new and used crutches, paint them with messages of love and encouragement, and the crutches, along with artificial limbs secured by Randomkids, are shipped to Haiti. So kids’ creativity is combined with serving a real need.

o Help Solve the World’s Water Crisis, in which kids develop their own bottled water product concept.RandomKids provide the bottles and templates, and the proceeds from the bottles support technology for water projects around the world. The kids exercise their choice by deciding where in the world the support goes.

And on and on, with projects that aid the environment, literacy, troops overseas. There is the potential for as many useful projects as are inspired by the dreams and energy of youth.

We, of course, have many local kids doing extraordinary things for the unfortunate. Our own Mitzvot from the Heart feature highlights the many great works that local Jewish kids do as part of their preparation for becoming Bar and Bat Mitzvot. The girls of Block Yeshiva (recognized as Unsung Heroes by the Light; see Lois Caplan’s column on page 11) are another example of an amazing ongoing effort on behalf of those in need.

Talia answers the quo vadimus question in a different way, through her vision and her passion to serve as the connective tissue among all sorts of kids all over the world. Her energy and presence are mesmerizing. She is an old soul reborn into the embodiment of a seemingly regular teen. As she quoted Talmud in a 2009 interview to explain her personal philosophy: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

Quo vadimus. Where are we going? Talia clearly knows where she is going; her life has already served as an inspiration for a new generation of young philanthropists. If the rest of us can answer that question as dynamically and effectively as Talia, the world will be a much better place indeed.