Born with a congenital cataract in her left eye, Lillian Pravda first underwent restorative surgery when she was 9 weeks old.
The experience of being a patient as a young child made her acutely aware of the fears many children face while undergoing medical care. At age 6, she started collecting and distributing books and toys to children in the pediatric surgical unit.
“Small comforts can help overcome fear so easily,” she said. “I realized that making a difference is not hard — it just requires empathy and motivation.”
Pravda put those qualities to the test when, at 8, she founded Vision For and From Children (VFAFC), a nonprofit organization that raises money for eye surgeries for children in need. Today, the organization has helped over 26,000 children receive the gift of sight by sending teams of ophthalmologists to places like Haiti and the Dominican Republic, in addition to bringing children to the U.S. for surgery.
“There are so many people in need, but I also learned that there are so many generous people,” said Pravda, a high school sophomore. “All I had to do was match them up.”
This spring, VFAFC launched a nationwide 50-state mobile clinic program, delivering eye care and glasses to children in underserved communities free of charge. Pravda coordinated the clinic’s first run to overlap with her spring break so she could accompany the mission without missing class.
Pravda was recognized for her work in 2014 when she received a National Jefferson Award, referred to as the Nobel Prize for public service (past winners include presidents, supreme court justices, and secretaries of state). “Winning the award set me on a whole different trajectory by introducing me to a network of people who wanted to help,” she said. “It gave my mission more credibility.”
Balancing a dual curriculum, extracurriculars, speaking engagements around the world, and a burgeoning nonprofit is no small task, but Pravda feels up to the challenge. She finds strength in reminding herself of her mission.
“Vision is not limited to what eyes can or cannot see — vision is something a mind can dream,” she said. “If you can see it in your mind, you can create it.”
She’s got moves. Pravda loves to dance, and has been tapping, spinning and high-kicking since the age of 2. She is classically trained in ballet, tap and jazz, and enjoys Broadway-style dance.