Above: Eight-year-old Quinn Pruitt held a special event to raise money to find a cure for Angelman Syndrome, which affects his twin sister, Emma.
A few years ago when Quinn Pruitt was learning to walk and talk, he noticed his twin sister, Emma, wasn’t able to do everything he could and wondered why. He learned she had something called Angelman Syndrome, a rare neurological condition that can cause lack of speech, seizures and problems with movement and balance. Those affected typically require lifelong care.
But, Quinn has a dream that during his sister’s life time that will change.
“A lot of people are trying to help people with Angelman Syndrome,” the eight-year-old said. “I hope that if more people pay attention and help there will be new ideas and we can find a cure faster.”
A couple of years ago when Quinn was getting ready to start kindergarten, the Pruitt family moved to the neighborhood near Kenter Canyon Elementary School. Quinn set his eyes on a big lemon tree growing at his new house and came up with an idea.
“He told me he wanted to have a lemonade stand,” Quinn’s mother, Shannon Pruitt, said. “I didn’t think much of it at the time. Kids like to have lemonade stands. We were happy to help him with whatever he needed…squeeze some lemons, make some signs and help him to sell some lemonade.”
Quinn earned $40 from lemonade sales. It’s what happened next, his mom said, that was a major turning point.
“He told me he wanted to donate the money to find a cure and help Emma,” she said. “To say we were blown away would be an understatement. We saw he had a dream. And, as parents, it’s our job to support and empower our kids to realize their dreams.”
With his family’s encouragement, Quinn got right to work. He started thinking of new ways to raise money.
“We already sold lemonade, so we tried to think of something we could sell in the winter,” he said. “So, we decided to sell cups of cocoa.”
Quinn set out on a journey to sell 5 million cups of cocoa for $4 a piece, which would mean $20 million for research on Angelman and other nervous system afflictions like autism, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Thus began Quinn’s Cocoa for the Cure. To date, the effort has led to sales of about 25,000 cups of cocoa, which is about $100 thousand toward finding a cure.
Quinn said his school really helped get his movement off the ground. In his first grade year, he approached his school’s principal, Terry Moren, asking if he could make announcements about Quinn’s Cocoa for the Cure.
“Of course,” Moren recalls telling him. “As a school, we were thrilled to support Quinn any way we could. We helped him record a message that went home to the school community. He’s talked to the student body at assemblies and at our talent show.”
With the community quickly rallying around him, Quinn organized an event midway through his first grade year selling cups of cocoa — complete with marshmallows — in front of a neighborhood supermarket. Fellow students and their families stepped in making cookies and other baked goods to go with the cocoa. A family with a printing company pitched in and made special aprons and other items with a bright colorful logo.
The event brought in $4,000 and also caught the attention of the Angelman Syndrome Foundation, which added a web page where supporters could buy ‘virtual’ cups of cocoa and make donations online. That brought in another $36,000.
This year, Quinn held a second event, which included a whole host of new volunteers, face-painters, more baked goods, printed merchandise and even a DJ. This time around, the event brought in $7,000 followed by another $53,000 in online donations.
“This all began from a little boy with hope,” Quinn’s mom said. “It’s happening because he and others are clinging to that hope that this will have a positive outcome. It’s about Quinn’s belief in an idea then having a whole groundswell of supporters getting behind that idea and offering any help they can.”
She said many other children Quinn’s age who also have siblings with special needs started to emulate his efforts and think about ways they could start movements of their own. Quinn’s and Emma’s four-year-old sister, Mia, also has an idea for her own movement called ‘Mia’s Muffins.’
“I am honored that my son is at the heart of such a powerful movement,” said Quinn’s dad, Scott Pruitt. “Sometimes it just takes someone like Quinn, who is really smart about picking out the positives in life and making amazing things happen. At his age he doesn’t think of reasons why something can’t be done or is hard to do. He just dreams it and makes it real.”
Moren said he’s overjoyed his school could play a role in galvanizing the movement that began with one of his students.
“Quinn is an inspirational student who captures the heart of everyone who meets him,” he said. “The beauty of his work is how it’s shown that with dedication and drive any person — no matter how young he may be — can make a major difference.”
Moren said Quinn’s penchant for setting admirable goals and his tenacity in working toward them represents some of the most important lessons educators strive to teach their students.
“He is a role model for our school’s character education program that emphasis Initiative, kindness, respect, responsibility, teamwork, cooperation and citizenship,” he said. “He’s got drive, determination and promise.”
As Quinn reflects on what he’s done, there is no astonishment or amazement in his voice. Most of the time he says he’s just focusing on doing his homework and looking forward to science class. It’s clear though, that his twin sister — who is in second grade in the classroom next door to his — is always at the forefront of his mind.
“I am glad that she is able to go to school here with me,” he said. “I think it helps her relax knowing I am near by.”
When they see each other during classroom breaks, it’s evident they are close. She smiles, claps and clings closely to her brother whenever she gets the chance.
“Quinn is definitely Emma’s favorite person in the world,” mom said, smiling. “I think that’s been true since they were in the womb and always will be true.”
She said that at this point, Quinn may not realize just how much of a difference he’s made.
“His work has created so much awareness,” she said. “In 2012 when Emma was diagnosed, no pharmaceutical companies were investing in research on Angelman Syndrome, because it just wasn’t as common or well known. Now, there are five major companies investing.”
When it comes to Quinn, she says, it’s not as much about investment, research and development as it is about staying focused on a dream.
“What he represents is kindness,” she said. “He demonstrates the most important rule we teach our children: that it’s all about treating people how you want to be treated. For him, his sister is just special and unique the way everyone is special and unique, and all he wants is to help her.”
Quinn maintains that it’s all very simple: he just wants his sister to be able to talk, walk and play the way others can. While he doesn’t see any problem getting to five million cups of cocoa, he’s not sure if it will end there.
“I won’t stop until there is a cure,” he said. “You should never give up on your dreams. My dream is to find a cure for my sister, and I will keep doing this until it comes true.”