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Isabella Tejeda is the founder of Read a Story, Change a Life.

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People Who Inspire Us

Local Residents Find Purpose through Service to Others

“If you have a heartbeat, there’s still time for your dreams. Make dreams happen for other people, and you’ll be flooded with miracles.” –Sean Stephenson

The passion exuding from inspired people is the energy that stirs our hearts. Sometimes it comes from a need to do what is good and right for another person. Some people are driven to create something that will outlast themselves, but the greatest creation is something that will outlast our memory. We are most fortunate to learn about what drives these people to greatness in hopes that some of that passion will rub off on us, to inspire us to pursue our own dreams.

This month, we are featuring inspiring people in our community and the work they do to benefit others. We started with a conversation with Mayor Tara Campbell, an inspiring person we featured in September, about the highly inspirational people she knows in our community. The people we are featuring here not only overcame some challenging circumstances to bring their dream to life, but they are also using their work to benefit others, shining a bright light through our community.   

Alexander Behura

Alexander Behura has a brother, Max, who has severe autism. Alexander was just 15, sitting in an airport with his family when he realized what services his well-traveled family needed to better care for Max that were lacking in all the places they had visited. 

Alexander, at age 16, got to work creating the MAX Program, a travel assistance program for people with autism and other cognitive disabilities. He began a letter-writing campaign to interest various organizations, and the first response came from Ian Gee, manager of the Sheraton Park Hotel near Disneyland in Anaheim, California, who invited Alexander to do a presentation to his team. Currently, Sheraton/Marriott Hotels and John Wayne Airport are two local organizations that have adopted the MAX Program or some modification of it based on Alexander’s work. 

Alexander, now 19 and a sophomore at Duke University, speaks four languages (English, Mandarin, Italian and Bengali), is an expert musician of piano and clarinet, and is interested in cardiac surgery. Alex was born with a serious congenital heart defect and has had two open-heart surgeries. A third surgery is anticipated, but he has not allowed this to slow him down. He has been voted 1 of 100 Most Influential People in Orange County by The Orange County Register for the MAX Program and is currently implementing the MAX Program at Raleigh-Durham Airport, Simon Mall (near San Jose, California,) and Ontario Airport, California.

Alexander’s work ethic, he says, comes from his family of immigrants who worked several jobs and studied hard in college.

“The values of working hard, pushing myself and setting lofty goals were ingrained in me since early childhood," Alexander says. "I was exposed to multiple languages—between us, we can speak six—and loved different types of music. Hence, these activities never seemed like work to me.”

Alexander is humble about his blessings and does his duty to embody his father’s favorite quote: “To whom much is given, much will be required.” 

“The work I have done is to try to bring changes in society to make [Max’s] life, and the lives of others like him, a little easier,” he says. “I feel that as his big brother it is my duty to watch over him, and what I am doing is just part of it.” 

Isabella Tejeda

In 2017, 15-year-old Isabella Tejeda was considering a Gold Award project for Girl Scouts when it occurred to her that many local children were in need of literacy intervention, and that meant direct access to books. This concerned her enough to ask for help in creating a project that would lead children to the books that would ultimately change their life for the better. She asked Joe Baldo, the director of Anaheim, California-based nonprofit Higher Ground Youth & Family Services, about assisting her in this call to action. This partnership launched Read a Story, Change a Life, Isabella’s dream for inspiring children’s imagination and confidence in literacy.

Isabella was drawn to help the children in her community who didn’t have the same access to literacy that she did. She learned that the children who attended Higher Ground Youth and Family Services lived not so far from her home yet struggled with poverty, gangs and literacy, often reading two grade levels below their peers. Many did not access books from local libraries due to fears of not being able to afford overdue or lost book fees.

As a child, Isabella spent hours in the Yorba Linda Public Library, attending storytimes and reading mystery and action-adventure books.

“Reading is so important to everyone,” she says. “I’m passionate about helping kids and believe I have a connection with them.” 

Now a 17-year-old Rosary Academy student living in Yorba Linda, Isabella says that age doesn’t define the ability to create change in the world.

“My best advice for other teens who desire to make a change is to just go for it. Confidently and passionately put your request out there. Don’t take no for an answer. Find your ‘yes.’”

Isabella’s story of service is featured in a newly released book titled Inspiring Stories That Make a Difference by the Loukoumi Foundation, a book of 75 stories from philanthropic kids around the nation who are making a lasting positive change in their communities.

Cindy DeMint

Cindy DeMint advocates like a mother like no other. She married her high school sweetheart, Gerry, her husband of 39 years, and together they created a family-first faith-based life she always dreamed of. But when their eldest son was diagnosed with a rare form of ataxia, a neurological disease that attacks the cerebellum in the brain, normal life for her family was about to change dramatically.

The result of genetic testing for their immediate family revealed all three of their boys are carriers of the gene for Ataxia AOA2, while her daughter and their three grandchildren are not. Cindy’s strength and initiative to help her sons led her to lead an ataxia support group and is now on the Board of Directors for the National Ataxia Foundation (NAF).

“I knew God’s purpose for me was to be a mom,” Cindy says with tears welling up with this truth in her eyes, “But my purpose is to find a cure for ataxia.”

Cindy is best known as the leader of the annual Walk-N-Roll to Cure Ataxia around Eastlake every September to raise money for the NAF and awareness for ataxia in general. But Cindy’s greatest advocacy for her sons was creating their own nonprofit organization, Brothers on a Quest, that will fund research to lead to a cure for her sons’ specific form of ataxia, AOA2.  

To advance their cause, Cindy spearheaded the effort for her family to take part in the making of a documentary with filmmaker RJ Hall called We Are Strong. Now that the DeMint family has obtained the rights to the film, the proceeds from video purchases, merchandise, sponsorships and donations will go directly to Brothers on a Quest to fund research and a cure at UCLA. Cindy connected with Dr. Brent Fogel, director of the Ataxia and Neurogenetics Biobank at UCLA, who will be performing the research on gene expression of the AOA2 type.

Find out more about ataxia and the DeMint family's story by watching the documentary trailer for We Are Strong on YouTube or the full feature at WeAreStrongMovie.com. All donations go to fund Brothers on a Quest for ataxia AOA2. 

  • Alexander Behura is the creator of the MAX Program.
  • Isabella Tejeda is the founder of Read a Story, Change a Life.
  • Cindy DeMint spearheaded a documentary movie and a nonprofit organization to fund treatment and a cure for ataxia AOA2.