Lee & Lucas: Foundation Ambassadors
On the surface, Lucas and Lee Courtney are typical eighth-graders in their Massachusetts town. Lucas is outgoing and plays left field in the local baseball league. He hopes to become a marine biologist one day. Lee, who is a more introspective and artistic, thinks that he might become a graphic designer. Both hope to eventually go to Boston University for their undergraduate degrees.
The thirteen-year-old brothers have been to Boston University before. In fact, these mild-mannered middle-school students are already big men on campus. Since 2007, Lee and Lucas have put on their boogie shoes each spring and joined hundreds of college students to raise funds and awareness for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) at the annual Up 4 the Fight Dance Marathons in Massachusetts. For the past four years, Lee and Lucas have been official EGPAF ambassadors, cheering on the sleep-deprived dancers.
As EGPAF ambassadors, Lee and Lucas regularly speak at schools and events like A Time for Heroes—EGPAF’s celebrity event in California—educating people about HIV and dispelling misconceptions. As kids who have been living with the virus since birth, the boys are experts.
“It is important to speak up about our story to help people understand the important cause of EGPAF,” says Lee.
Growing up with HIV is still not easy. Lee is not enthusiastic about all of the medicine he needs to take—26 doses per day— but he knows that life is much more difficult for kids living with HIV who do not have medicine. Lee also worries about other kids not being friends once they find out about his HIV status.
“My life's not normal,” agrees Lucas. “When someone found out I was HIV-positive my first reaction was ‘this is bad.’ Only a handful of trusted friends know. I was told not to tell anybody because it would ruin my reputation and make me unwanted.”
But as EGPAF ambassadors, Lee and Lucas belong to a fraternity that knows exactly what they are going through and gives them support and respect.
The boys consider other EGPAF ambassadors a second family. They say that Jake Glaser, who they met at their first dance marathon in 2007, is like a big brother—as are Ben Banks and Joey DiPaolo, grown guys living with HIV and thriving.
“Those are the best friends I could ask for,” says Lee. “They understand where we’re coming from."
“I lost my biological dad to HIV, and my biological mom is in and out of the hospital for treatments,” says Lucas. “Jake and I both raise awareness to prevent the same thing from happening to other families around the world.”
“I have worked with the strongest people who are trying to make a difference in the world. I love belonging to an organization that will change people's lives by awareness and prevention,” Lucas continues. “My four years as an ambassador have been wonderful, and I hope I will stay one.”
“I am a quiet kid,” says Lee, “but I like speaking and helping EGPAF because we just help each other. I like going to dance marathons because it raises money for other kids to get HIV treatment. I think that it is really sad that in other parts of the world HIV kids don’t get the care that they need.”
“As parents, we greatly appreciate EGPAF for providing a place where children and families effected by HIV can be accepted and educated in a compassionate fashion,” says Ginny Courtney, mother of the boys. “Elizabeth would be so proud of her son, Jake, and her extended family that has grown from her brilliant spirit.”
“Our role in being ambassadors is to bring a voice for every kid infected with HIV who does not have a voice,” adds Lucas.