It all started with a question, and a doozy at that - one that most parents would shrug off or answer with a weak solution or excuse. Not J.D. Lewis. His 13 year old son, Jackson posed to him, "Why aren't we doing more to make a difference?" At first, this father of two adopted sons thought his family might be able to volunteer locally, but on deeper examination, came up with something that would change their lives, and many others, globally, forever.
Twelve in Twelve was born. Lewis and his sons would travel across 7 continents to 12 different countries, one each month, spending a year away from home, making a difference in areas of the world that needed help. J.D.'s son, Jackson, had sparked something within him. A creative man already, father J.D. is a playwright and successful acting coach who's appeared in commercials and TV shows. Now he was about to embark on the most creative endeavor of his life.
Photo courtesy of Parade Magazine
Preparing for this event was an arduous process, from meeting with a Peace Corp advisor, to international Ambassadors, to financial planners; somehow, it all came together. Once word got out, support poured in, in the form of individual and corporate sponsors. Wells Fargo/Wachovia, Scholastic all pitched in; Lego pledged to send the favorite toy of Buck, (the younger son, age 8), to underprivileged children in other countries.
After all this initial legwork, it became obvious that the Lewis's mission would be to initiate the Twelve in Twelve Network, a tool to help other families in their quest to repeat the same goodwill. This would be a "one stop shop," where people could get help planning a similar experience based on their levels of time commitment, budget and the types of work they would like to do.
Soon, the news spread. The Lewis story was appearing on Fox News and CBS news, as well as in many publications and newspapers, most recently in Parade magazine. J.D. was shocked at the overwhelming support of total strangers upon hearing his family's story; many sent in $10. At times, he was nervous about it all, but forged ahead, even receiving an encouraging note from Yoko Ono.
1st Stop - St. Petersburg, Russia — Photo courtesy of Adam Jones, Ph. D.
The Lewises started their miraculous journey in Russia, working with homeless teens through the organization "Transit." Then it was on to Beijing, China, working with kids with physical challenges at the New Hope orphanage. J.D., in his blog, stated his renewed hope in mankind seeing the doctors' work there. After the third leg in their journey, his enthusiasm for helping others was bubbling over in his next blog entry, encouraging everyone to just do something in the way of volunteering! He was hooked and so were the kids.
The goodbyes were becoming the hardest thing, after the family became attached to the people they met at each juncture. Next was Thailand, where the Lewises worked with endangered elephants at the Elephant National Park and learned of the horrible abuses of these animals. It was exhausting, yet satisfying work everywhere they went.
Tibetan monk children — Photo courtesy of Jonathan Choe
In China, they spent time with the Monks of the Shar Gaden Monastery and saw the Dalai Lama speak. They taught English to political prisoners. It was here that Jackson made the decision to become a vegetarian. Buck, the younger more outgoing boy, was well loved and approached by many in the streets for photo opps. In Rwanda, Africa, the Lewises spent time with orphaned kids affected by genocide, and were excited to meet the U.S. Ambassador. Along their journey, the boys and their dad managed some sightseeing and were moved by iconic landmarks such as the Taj Majal in India and the Great Pyramids of Egypt.
Orphans in Africa — Photo courtesy of The Global Orphan Project
In Africa, J.D. taught English at the art school Creative Solutions, and the boys worked in the preschool. They helped in an orphanage for HIV victims in Nairobi. From there, the trio put much effort into raising monies for the Royal Flying Doctors in Australia, a wonderful team of professionals who provide medical care to the most remote areas. Distributing bikes to kids in Buenos Aires, Argentina and working at a homeless shelter there were some of the most meaningful moments of their trip.
And the selfless journey continues for these three. Next up - Antarctica, Paraguay, Peru and Haiti. You can follow their amazing trek by going to www.twelveintwelve.info. Back stateside by July, they plan to spend another month in Mississippi, documenting our own country's poverty in the town where J.D.'s sister lives. Their entire journey has been captured on film. For more information, visit the web site and see how you can help make a difference.
J.D. Lewis had always taught his students back home, "In a hundred years we are all going to be dead. The tragedy is the life not fully lived!" He and his boys have certainly fully lived during this adventure, and have even started making plans to go back. And as J.D. stated before leaving on this once in a lifetime trip, the possibilities are, indeed, endless.