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Life & Work with Jess Obert

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jess Obert. 

Hi Jess, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstories with our readers?
Payton’s Lemonade Stand unofficially started in the summer of 2018 when our six-year-old daughter, Payton, had put ‘host a lemonade stand’ on her summer bucket list. We had talked about where the proceeds would go. Payton had decided she wanted to purchase toys for patients at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. You see, when Payton was just 2, she was a patient at CCHMC and was gifted a teddy bear during her stay. That teddy bear was a great source of comfort to her during her stay and it’s continued to be a comfort item even 7 years later. With the help of her dad, she built a wooden stand and began to prepare for the big day. She invited her friends and neighbors and served the tastiest lemonade in town on that hot summer day. Within a few hours, she raised $768! We took the money to Target (who gave us an additional 25% off) and were able to purchase six shopping carts(!) of toys. We proceeded to then drop them off at the hospital to be distributed to patients. We thought our work was done, but in hindsight, we realize it was all just beginning. 

Payton was adamant that we host another stand the following summer. After the success of her first one, it was hard to tell her no. This time, she decided to create and pass out 200 fliers around her neighborhood to help get the word out more. Her Second Annual Lemonade Stand raised $7,000! We were able to both purchase over 300 toys and present the hospital with a check. At this point, she started to get the attention of local news/radio stations and she started to give the first of many interviews and we were still trying to wrap our heads around all of this! 

During this time, we started having family and friends approach us saying they felt inspired by Payton’s charitable work and they wanted their children to get involved in hosting a stand. For our Third Annual Lemonade Stand, we decided to franchise the stand. In the summer of 2020, in the middle of a pandemic, we had nine lemonade stands taking place all throughout Cincinnati on a steamy day in August. We had lemon-printed masks, hand sanitizer, lemons on the ground to promote social distancing, and plexiglass on all stands. Despite COVID obstacles, we raised $35,000! 

We were growing and growing fast! After this amazing turnout, we decided to officially become a nonprofit. We obtained our 501c3 license and decided to shift our focus beyond the walls of CCHMC and help children facing economic and personal hardships as well. While they do wonderful work for kids facing medical hardships and will always be an organization we support, we realize there are many other nonprofits out there who do incredible work for children facing hardships who might could benefit from our support. There are hundreds of thousands of kids facing hardships in the Cincinnati area and it is our goal to be able to assist the organizations that serve them and help sweeten the lives of these kids. Some of the wonderful organizations we have helped the past few months are Upspring, A Kid Again, Team Expansion, Shriners, Madi’s House, CCHMC, Toys For Tots, and the Kentucky Toy Fund created for the tornado victims. 

This past August we held our 4th Annual Lemonade Stand and it proved to be our biggest yet. We had 30 stands throughout Cincinnati and NKY, all hosted by kids. Some are even hosted by children who have faced incredibly difficult medical challenges (cancer) and are looking to give back. It truly is a community of kids coming together to serve kids who are less fortunate. Together, we raised $60,000! 

Since becoming a nonprofit, we have been able to host other fundraising events in addition to the annual lemonade stand and plan to continue that next year. For example, we partnered with Kendra Scott for a give-back event this past fall that allowed all of our female hosts to design a piece of jewelry that was then named after them and available online for purchase. We sold over $8500 worth of jewelry and Kendra Scott so generously gave us 20% of those proceeds. 

We also started our First Annual Lemon Giving Tree Campaign. We distributed Christmas trees to eleven local businesses. Each tree was adorned with lemon ornament tags that had an item listed on it. These were wish list items given to us by organizations in need this holiday season. We collected over 1,000 toys and over $1,000 in gift cards! We look forward to expanding this campaign next year to include more businesses so that we can help sweeten the lives of more children in need. 

While we have been successful in part one of our mission, we have also been successful in the second part: empowering our next generation of philanthropists. Seeing over 100 kids come together on one day to raise funds for kids who are facing hardships is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. It’s simply inspiring. We have now been able to involve more kids as we have started to get more involved with local schools, like Seton High School, who would like to get their students more involved in philanthropy. 

It is our hope that these kids will continue to participate in philanthropy and slowly but surely change this world for the better. 

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
It hasn’t all been smooth. Planning a fundraiser in the middle of a pandemic (our third year) is not for the faint of heart. Despite those challenges, we learned how to pivot and trust that everything will work out how it’s supposed to be. Also, as we continued to get bigger, I still had my full-time job at CCHMC as a Volunteer Specialist. I had been there for 14 years. Juggling both that and the lemonade work was proving to be a challenge. I stepped away from that role last September and have been able to focus solely on the lemonade nonprofit. Finally, entering the nonprofit world has been a huge learning curve for my husband and I, but we have been blessed to have family and friends who have helped us every step of the way. 

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I’ve always been in a job where I am helping others. It’s always been a passion of mine. The role of Executive Director of Payton’s Lemonade Stand, while challenging, is also very rewarding. It allows me to follow my passion of helping those in need and getting people excited about philanthropy. I never imagined being in this role, but it all fell together very beautifully and naturally and I feel I’m doing what I was meant to do. 

Where we are in life is often partly because of others. Who/what else deserves credit for how your story turned out?
I don’t have enough room to thank everyone who has helped us along the way! 

Our biggest mentor has been Tim Mettey, CEO at Matthew 25 Ministries, and his leadership team. Tim was a supporter and donor very early on and has been very instrumental in transforming us into a 501c3. His guidance and expertise and belief in us and our mission has been invaluable. We have also been blessed with accountants, attorneys, and other professionals who have offered their services at little to no cost to help get this nonprofit up and running. 

Dwyer Insurance has been a longstanding sponsor of the lemonade stand and for that, we are eternally grateful. Their incredible staff believed in us since day one and have been nothing but supportive of our mission. Their generous sponsor funds have helped us grow this business exponentially. 

We are also so grateful for the media, specifically channel 12, channel 9, channel 19, and B105. They are always willing to cover our stories and shine a spotlight on the work we are doing. That has helped in ways I could never imagine. For instance, one news story caught the eye of a couple who are opening an upscale eatery, a scratch kitchen bar known for their kona coffee, pastries, and craft cocktails up in Dublin, OH. They are donating 100% of their lemonade proceeds to us indefinitely! That partnership is enough for a whole other article -haha! 

We’re also so grateful to our hosts every summer! It’s so inspiring to see these young kids come out and raise money for kids in need. They are always so cheerful, gracious, and motivated! 

Finally, we are so thankful for our followers. Their interaction on our social pages means the world to us. We pour our hearts into this business and to see it so well received means more than they’ll ever know. 

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Melanie Pace

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