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Tween Sisters Raise $400K For St. Jude

Tween Sisters Raise $400K For St. Jude

CREATED May 27, 2014

GERMANTOWN, Tenn. (AP) - When Madison and Lindsey Dismuke make presentations to potential St. Jude Children's Research Hospital donors, they start off all business.

They rattle off statistics about the hospital, document its history and explain where the money goes.

Then they tell the story of a patient named Ingram.

Ingram is 5 years old, and doctors see no signs of cancer in his body a year and a half after he went from complaining about a headache to brain surgery in the span of a week.

Then they hit the audience with their kicker.

"He's our little brother."

Whether the crowd is 20 or 1,500, that line always earns an audible "aww."

Wrapping up, Lindsey matter-of-factly reminds the business people that they accept both cash and checks on behalf of St. Jude.

Their system seems to be working - the Germantown sisters have raised more than $400,000 in a year and a half. And the only thing more impressive than the money raised is their ages: Madison is 12 and Lindsey is 10.

Madison, a Houston Middle School sixth-grader, was home sick the day her mother got a call from Ingram's doctor.

"I didn't know anything was wrong," Madison said. "And then she started crying."

Ingram - already dubbed "Ingram the Conqueror" due to his tendencies to knock over his own building block creations - went through surgery at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital, then radiation and chemotherapy at St. Jude. He went from being "an annoying pest who could punch," according to his eldest sister, to a pale and skinny little boy with a diagnosis of anaplastic ependymoma, a rare brain cancer.

But Ingram's recollection of the children's hospital and its activities are so pleasant, that when the Make-A-Wish Foundation asked Ingram where he wanted to go in the world, he said, "St. Jude!"

His sisters developed the same enthusiasm for the hospital. Madison, whom parents Craig and Ashley nicknamed "Madison the Compassionate," wants to be a child life specialist when she grows up. Lindsey "the Artisan" likes it there because "nobody ever cries."

When Ingram was diagnosed in April 2012, the girls set a lofty goal: raise $1 million. Craig thought that was a bit too optimistic, especially with their original plan of holding lemonade stands. An economist, Craig helped his daughters calculate the number of lemonade stands needed to reach the goal. Instead, he helped them develop the framework for a presentation, and later, a video to send to out-of-town companies, such as Apple.

He took them to his office and showed them how to navigate a large building, where to stand in a conference room, and how to walk on and off an elevator with professional adults. The girls go from board room to board room in downtown Memphis presenting their cause to CEOs, dentist offices and church groups.

Their parents help them set up appointments and have worked with them on the subtleties of their presentation. But once at the presentation, the girls are on their own. "I want them to have ownership of it," Craig said.

The community was quick to embrace their efforts. Dogwood Elementary, where Lindsey is in the fourth grade, has held several "Ingram Days," and almost all of the students own a Team Ingram T-shirt. Twenty-plus men in Craig's office shaved their heads in support. "Two of my friends, instead of getting presents for their birthday parties, they asked for donations for St. Jude," Lindsey said.

The city of Memphis honored the girls with the Ruby R. Wharton Outstanding Women Award for public service in February, and they have been top fundraisers for the hospital the last two years.

That original $1 million goal looks more feasible, as the girls continue to spread their message. Their new campaign idea is auctioning some artwork Ingram wants to donate. Meanwhile, the girls are enjoying Ingram's return to their punch-happy little brother. Ingram's body shows no visible signs of cancer,, but has to go for scans every three months. Doctors won't consider him cured for 10 years.

"They want to help their little brother," Craig said of his daughters. "They know he's sick, they're scared, and they want to help. And they know there's nothing you can do to help. So I think they saw raising money as a way that they could help him."

(Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)