Written by: Pam Platt, WaterStep Communications Specialist
18 is a big year for most young people, and it has been a big year for Isabella Mei Lamkin, too.
She took her ACT test, plus dual-credit courses, planning to go to college after she graduates high school and has a gap year.
She got her first “real” job, as a receptionist for a dental company.
She worked an “unofficial” job over the summer, staffing a Scout camp for a few months.
Because of that summer stint at camp, Isabella asked for and received an extension to complete her Eagle Scout service project. She has submitted the documenting paperwork about how she surpassed her goal of 450 pounds to collect more than 560 pounds of shoes which will help fund WaterStep’s safe-water efforts around the world.
Specifically, the amount of shoes she amassed will allow her to supply a Kenyan prison with a ChlorineGenerator that will make unsafe water safe for the prison population.
WaterStep’s BleachMakers and ChlorineGenerators are resilient and easy-to-use implements used all over the world, making water safe to drink and use; they boost hygiene and sanitation efforts as well.
As Isabella wrote of her water work and her Eagle project in a social media post, “We are extremely lucky to live in a place where we do not have to worry about things like ‘how are we going to get clean water?’ because it’s as easy as going to our sink, turning on the faucet and filling up our cups.
“Well, not everybody has that luxury. In some countries kids are not able to go to school, because they have to walk miles and miles to be able to access water where they have to then carry it back to their families. But even then, the water is not safe.”
Isabella said she is “super grateful” that she has been able to work with WaterStep and to be able to spread awareness of why safe water is so essential and important.
Well, that goes double for us when it comes to Isabella.
WaterStep meets spectacular people all the time, champions of caring and giving, and Isabella is memorable among them. For her youth, yes, but also for her commitment to speaking up for the voiceless, especially for children, her wheelchair no obstacle for standing out and speaking out. She is all about hope and confidence, in her words, her beliefs, and in her actions.
A beautifully direct children’s book she has written, titled “Stand Out Not Up,” emphasizes that anyone can make the world a better place. No matter skin color, neighborhood, origin, age, size, ability.
“You don’t have to stand up to stand out:
You can make change from anywhere.
From cities, to mountains to countryside;
Or, like me, from a wheelchair.”
“What matters is your heart,
And the light that shines out from within.”
Isabella says, “My challenges made me who I am today. They give me a drive like fire to advocate (for her causes).”
Isabella acts, and she prefaces her answers about her activism by noting she is not trying to be “braggy” … duly noted, she is not, always sharing credit and assigning causes and reasons for what she does.
She also received the Youth Philanthropy Award from the Norton Children’s Hospital Foundation for her three years of volunteer work.
Her pageant participation yielded a crown as Teen Miss Kansas Earth, whose Beauties for a Cause “provides opportunities for advocacy, education and recognition for women and girls who want to positively impact our planet.” Her cause is water.
Her personal history delivered another cause: She was a disabled infant and child whose desperate birth parents could not provide or care for her. They did the best they could, she said, leaving her at an orphanage in her native China with no guarantee of her safety or discovery. Her very difficult years growing up there, until her completed adoption by American parents at age 7, fueled her interest as an American teen in working to bring Safe Haven “Baby Boxes” to Kentucky. The “boxes,” usually at fire or police stations or hospitals, allow mothers in crisis to surrender, anonymously, their newborns in a safe place staffed round-the-clock, where the infants will immediately be taken care of.
Isabella embraced this idea, this cause. She wrote her first letter to a legislator in June 2020. At her mother’s suggestion, she started and circulated a petition for “baby boxes” in Kentucky in early 2021 when the letter didn’t gain traction. She followed that up with interviews about the cause. In March 2021, Gov. Andy Beshear signed a passed bill into law, bringing baby boxes into Kentucky. On July 1, 2021, Kentucky’s first Safe Haven Baby Box was dedicated at Okolona Fire Station District No. 1.
Her avocation as a voice for the voiceless, born in the orphanage that housed her, was in full swing, her challenges making her who she was and is.
Despite her spoken assurance and demonstrated commitment, the young woman is not without memories of bullying, of not being fully seen for the fullness of who she is, someone whose spirit can soar like an eagle even if her legs don’t straighten.
Another thing about being 18: She’s a Swiftie, and she got to see Taylor Swift in Cincinnati for her 18th birthday.
Isabella loved the show, the best she has ever attended, sang her heart out with the rest of the crowd, got a huge jolt from the singer/songwriter/performer’s vibe and truth-telling and presence. She thinks Taylor is a great example for people, for her, “a normal country girl who came from a place of nowhere,” who was rejected, people didn’t like her, and none of that stopped her.
Isabella, never one of the popular kids, she said, understands challenges even as she shapes them into forms that provide foundation for what’s next for her.
These are her takeaways, and they are for you, care of Isabella Mei Lamkin:
Hold onto hope.
Keep believing in yourself.
The perfect time is right now.
If it doesn’t happen right now, that’s perfectly OK, she said.
You have hope and belief in yourself to feed the seed you’ve planted … and it will grow … with the light that shines from within, allowing you to stand out.