Alyssa Simmons, 13, of Mission Viejo, Calif., an eighth-grader at Los Alisos Intermediate, has been a spokesperson, mentor and advocate for kids like herself who have sickle cell anemia since she was 5 years old. After her mother started the Sickle Cell Foundation of Orange County, Alyssa became a "spokesperson for tots" and began encouraging children with sickle cell anemia to share their feelings about the daily challenges of their chronic disease. "I acted as the voice for that age group," she said. "It felt good because some kids didn't have an advocate like I did, and I wanted them to get the same chances I got."
Several years later, Alyssa led friends and classmates on visits to children in hospitals, bringing them gifts and tutoring them so they wouldn't fall behind on their schoolwork. Then she created a program that encourages young sickle cell patients to chronicle their feelings and activities in a daily journal. Alyssa also has represented people with sickle cell anemia in the news media, helped raise thousands of dollars for sickle cell causes, mentored individual patients, and wrote a book about sick kids. Her plan, said Alyssa, is to "continue inspiring others to look beyond their challenges and reach toward their goals."