The Best Philadelphians 2005

We were inspired by their daughter. Now we’re inspired by Liz & Jay Scott

By the summer of 2004, after four years of lemonade stands, Alex Scott had brought in $900,000 for childhood cancer with plans to raise a total of $1 million in 2004. She, along with her parents and three brothers, had been on Oprah, the Early Show, MSNBC, the Today Show. Volvo created the “Alexandra Scott Butterfly Award” to recognize child heroes. Good Housekeeping gave Alex its Heroes for Health award. Sixers GM Billy King took Alex and her cause under his wing, and the team honored her as a Hometown Hero. Super Fresh, Whole Foods, Coca-Cola, Country Time, Sunkist, and Caesars Palace in Las Vegas had all contributed to the fund, which Jay managed every night after he came home from his sales job at a publishing company, while Liz answered e-mails (often hundreds a day) and put together lemonade stand start-up kits to send to people who wanted to hold their own fund-raisers to contribute to Alex’s cause. And that year, people were holding them everywhere. There were the fifth-graders in Upper Merion, the little girl in Avalon, the students at Goodnoe Elementary in Newtown. There was at least one stand in each of the 50 states, and a few in other countries.

Yet even as the phenomenon of the stand expanded, Alex’s health was deteriorating. She was so ill the morning of June 12, 2004 — the day of her annual stand — that no one was sure she’d be able to attend. But she did, wearing her bright yellow sun hat as her mom pushed her wheelchair into the gym at Penn Wynne Elementary, the new location for Alex’s Original Stand, since it had outgrown the Scotts’ front yard. Hundreds of people were waiting. When Alex arrived, everyone in the neighborhood could hear the cheers. Alex had already set her goal for 2005 — $5 million. On August 1st, she died.

It would have been so logical, so reasonable, for the lemonade stand to pass away with the little girl who’d founded it. Liz and Jay had three other children to care for. And there was so much grief. They could have said, We’re not going to do this anymore. But they remembered what Alex had once told them: “You should never give up. It’s never good to give up.” And they decided not to give up. Not on the lemonade stand. Not on Alex. Because the lemonade stand was Alex. As long as it lived on, so would she.

The Scotts knew it would be a daunting job. First, they had to meet the 2004 goal, which they blew away, raising a total of $1.4 million. But then there was the $5 million for 2005. That was huge. There was no way they could raise that much by running the stand out of their kitchen, especially now that they’d decided to take the reins from the Philadelphia Foundation, which had been managing the donations, and create their own nonprofit. That meant electing a board of trustees and keeping the books and finding sponsors and even answering the phones. How would they handle that and respond to e-mails and speak at schools and go to lemonade stands and help the boys with their homework? So Jay did the only thing he could to keep his daughter’s dream alive — he quit his job, taking a big pay cut to become the only full-time employee of Alex’s Lemonade Stand. And Liz joined him, letting go of 10 years as a stay-at-home mom to work part-time in the office space they rented in Ardmore, with lemon-yellow walls they painted themselves.