When she was 11 years old, Alexis Ross discovered she had type 1 diabetes. She had lost 20 pounds, lacked any energy and was unable to quench her thirst.
Finally, one day, she was rushed to the hospital by her mother, Caroline.
"My blood sugar was over 1200," Alexis said quietly. "Normally it should be between 80 and 150."
She spent a week at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore. The seventh grader learned to give herself four injections of insulin a day, and to check her blood sugar six to nine times daily.
"Some days are hard, but I'm OK with it," Alexis said last week, sitting in her home. "I take care of myself."
Now 14, she is also hoping to take care of others.
Last October, Alexis and her mother started Live, Hope, Laugh, the Alexis Ross Organization, a nonprofit that focuses on helping critically ill children.
"It's tough going through what they are going through," she said. "when every normal person doesn't have to go through (a chronic illness)."
Alexis, who is a rising sophomore Westminster High School, said she knew she could volunteer with other organizations, but starting her own nonprofit was important to her.
"I wanted to have something of my own," Alexis said. "When helping other organizations, you don't know where the money is going. I know I'm personally helping kids."
Starting the organization was tougher than expected. Since Alexis is not yet 18, her mother is president, and Steven Tipton, her mother's friend, is vice president.
"I work a full-time job during the day, and in the evening it (the nonprofit) is a full-time job," said Caroline Ross. "I didn't realize all there was. It's three of us trying to do probably what 12 would."
The work load becomes even greater when an event is planned — and things have been particularly busy of late. On June 24, Live, Hope, Laugh is hosting a "family celebration" at the Carroll County Ag Center in Westminster.
"We have five bands playing, a moon bounce, face painting and cotton candy," Alexis said of the event, which will also feature food vendors and a silent auction.
"This is the biggest step," her mother said. "We have over 3,000, maybe close to 4,000, invites on Facebook."
Other events Live, Hope, Laugh has hosted included a battle of the bands and a fundraiser at Bounce With Me Inflatables. A ballroom dancing event is planned for July, and Ross is working on other ideas for future fundraisers. Alexis has also visited the Ronald McDonald House in Baltimore, providing toys and games as well as taking part in activities.
"It was fun," Alexis said of the visit. "Many were happy. A lot had friends and families around."
All of the money collected is used to help critically ill children and teens. In December, Alexis and her organization helped provide Christmas gifts for three local families. This September, she is planning to provide school supplies for families in need.
Alexis has even greater plans for the future.
"I hope the organization expands and grows so when I'm older, I can open a house so kids can come and stay," she said. "I hope it gets that big."
If you go
The Alexis Ross Organization will present the Live, Hope, Laugh Festival on Saturday, noon to 9:30 p.m., at the Carroll County Ag Center, 700 Agriculture Center Drive, Westminster. Bring blankets and chairs and listen to local bands. Also food, face painting, moon bounce and more. Admission is $10. Proceeds benefit children and teens with chronic illness. For more details, call 410-596-8786.