Don Williams
Photo by Justin Williams

Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist, blogger, fiction writer, sometime TV commentator, and is the founder and editor emeritus of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Journalism Fellowship at the University of Michigan, a Golden Presscard Award from Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists, a best Commentary Award from SDC, Best Feature Writing from the Associated Press Tennessee Managing Editors, the Malcolm Law Journalism Prize from the Associated Press, Best Non-Deadline Reporting from the United Press International, Best Novel Excerpt from the Knoxville Writers Guild, a Peacemaker Award from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, five Writer of the Month Awards from the Scripps Howard Newspaper chain, and many others. In 2011 he was inducted into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame. His 2005 book of journalism, Heroes, Sheroes and Zeroes is under revision for a second printing, and he is at work on a novel and a book of journalism. His columns appear at and have been featured at many other well-known websites. To run his column, gratis, at your website, post this link to a dedicated spot: Need a speaker, panelist, tv commentator or teacher for your group or to lead a writing workshop, in your town? Email

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How a lemonade stand changed the world
(Copyright by Don Williams, All rights reserved   06/10/2005)

Take a deep drink of lemonade, and feel the ripples from Alexandra Scott wash through you. Not only will they slake your thirst, they might initiate you into a growing movement that's making the world a better place. Between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. this Saturday at the lively lemonade stand in front of Kroger's on Halls Road in Alcoa, the cool beverage will flow, come rain or shine, and a little girl's legend will grow.

If you can't make that scene, an alternative is to visit online and make a donation in memory of the girl the world knew simply as Alex. She died Aug. 1, but this column is about how the movement she started lives on in a way that blends the practical and the altruistic in a bittersweet elixir.

Two days before her first birthday, Alex's doctors diagnosed her with neuroblastoma, an aggressive childhood cancer. Five years ago, at age 4, Alex announced to her parents that she would set up a lemonade stand in her Philadelphia front yard to raise money for friends she'd made during her many trips to the hospital. Her parents tried to dissuade her at first, said Sarah Mate (pronounced-Muh-tay), who organized the Alcoa stand.

Alex refused to give in, however, and so her parents pitched in and made it happen. Local media became involved and by the end of that first day in July of 2000, Alex's stand had earned about $2,000. She made a splash in local media and soon the world began to take note. Alex became the poster child for a growing cause. Last year, during Alex's Lemonade Stand Day, more than 1,000 stands raised over $1.5 million nationwide to fund pediatric cancer research. More millions are expected to flow this year, thanks to Alex.

The late advocate of hope, love and lemonade did more in her brief life to change the world than most people who live ten times longer, said Mate. Her influence grows still. No wonder. Our world has been compared to a giant feedback loop that amplifies what we pour into it. The best and worst of our hopes, dreams, fears and actions flow forward through successive generations and outward in concentric circles. However you conceive the effect, Alex set ripples of optimism, energy and cheer flowing in all directions.

Mate, a former English teacher and insurance underwriter who lives in Maryville, is among those whose spirit was buoyed by Alex.

“I couldn't resist,” said Mate in a recent interview. “Last year in early June I was watching NBC's Today Show and Matt Lauer was interviewing this little kid who was bundled up in a big ole quilt. She had big dark eyes and she was sweet and bright. Her face was round, maybe from the medicine, and it was obvious to me that she was dying. I got on the phone and got super involved.”

Sarah walked into Anderson Lumber Company in Alcoa and asked if anyone there could help with a lemonade stand. Employees built a kit for her. She contacted friends at New Providence Presbyterian Church in Maryville and their children got involved, helping decorate and staff the stand. She phoned friends like Knoxville artist David Joyner, who hauled the stand over and set it up.

“Last year people would come up to us and say, `Yeah, I saw Alex on Oprah or the Today Show or CBS News. This year they're saying, Oh, yeah, I saw the Kentucky Derby.”

That's because the owners of Afleet Alex, a horse that placed third in the Derby, had joined the movement by now. They promised to donate part of the horse's earnings to the cause. The race was on NBC, and so the network repeated the initial interview with Matt Lauer, and Alex's influence grew. Afleet Alex went on to run heroically in the Preakness, recovering from a near-fall to surge ahead and win in dramatic fashion. The grueling Belmont Stakes will be run this Saturday, and a lemonade stand will be a prominent feature at the track, said Mate. Some 30 other racetracks in the U.S. and Canada also will feature lemonade stands for Alex this weekend to raise awareness of childhood cancer, a growing phenomenon possibly tied to environmental degradation.

“One in 330 children will get cancer by age 20,” said Sarah. It won't always be that way, thanks to people of altruistic hearts and minds, like Alex. “She did more in her eight years, with everything against her, to make the world a better place, than I've done my entire life,” said Mate, who is 64. “She changed the world.”