By Jeff Miller
Special to The Texas Catholic
ALLEN — All 197 members of John Paul II High School’s Class of 2019 are headed off to college, packing their bags for life’s adventures that lie ahead.
One of the seniors who recently walked across the stage at the Allen Event Center in her hometown has already built a legacy around bags while still a high school teen.
Keleigh Axelrod estimates that over the past three years she has distributed about 1,000 free duffel bags to foster children through a non-profit that she founded called Impacktive.
Without such duffel bags, foster children are typically relocated out of unsuitable environments with all of their belongings stuffed into a plastic trash bag or pillow case.
Axelrod’s benevolence might fall into the category of paying it forward. She nearly became a foster child as a 9-month-old in South Dakota, instead adopted by a family friend of her birth mother. When Keleigh (pronounced KEE-lee) was brought home by Jeanne and Scott Axelrod to Texas, a shopping bag from Target contained all of her possessions.
Keleigh even organized a fund-raising run last July in Plano that attracted more than 100 runners. Jeanne thought her pride in Keleigh couldn’t get any greater until the day last summer when she drove up to Plano’s Oak Point Park and saw the run’s participants navigating police barricades.
“Oh, my God. This is my kid,” Jeanne thought. “I’m so proud of her.”
The non-profit got its start when Keleigh was competing in a state pageant and identified the plight of foster children as her platform.
Immediately following the competition, one of the judges — Pratik Patel of Houston — told Keleigh he was so impressed by her presentation that he wanted to help her start a non-profit to benefit those children.
“I’m very thankful for Pratik’s help with that,” Keleigh said.
Patel’s initial assistance included securing a domain name and helping to choose the organization’s name, which she selected from submitted entries.
“After that year he exited, and she’s been running it ever since,” Jeanne said.
None of this has surprised Frank Santoni, who taught Keleigh in his social innovation lab at John Paul II.
“She’s very smart. She’s focused. There was nothing about being a teenager that seemed to be a barrier to her,” Santoni said.
Federal regulations prevent Keleigh from having any direct contact with any of the foundation’s recipients; she has received thank-you notes from CPS personnel. But about three months ago, a friend of her father’s took in a foster child and contacted Scott after receiving one of the duffel bags with the question: Isn’t this your daughter’s non-profit?
“I felt really, really proud,” she said.
Keleigh will enroll this fall at Michigan State University and major in political science with the goal of going into either law or government. She’ll still be able to oversee Impacktive from afar.
“She’s never going to let go of this,” Jeanne said. “She’s worked too hard.”