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Encino teen's perfect summer: Visiting wells and clinics in Africa

14 year-old Lulu Cerone with her Mattel-created character, a punk-rocker teen-philanthropist.
14 year-old Lulu Cerone with her Mattel-created character, a punk-rocker teen-philanthropist.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez

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SUMMER LEARNING: Education experts say idle summers can put kids behind when they go back to school in the fall. KPCC's education team spoke to teachers, parents and kids across Southern California about what they're learning this summer - or not.

Ask most teens what they want to study over the summer and many will give not-so-ambitious responses like: learning to dance the shuffle, mastering the latest version of Call of Duty or practicing kick flips on their skateboard.

Not Lulu Cerone. The 14-year-old from Encino wants to figure out how to solve the water crisis in Africa.

"Me and my entire family - my mom, my dad, and my little brother - we are going to northern Uganda to visit a well and also go to a medical clinic," she said. "I’m hoping to identify a new project there."

RELATED: Parents: How do you keep your kids engaged academically throughout summer?

Cerone is visiting "blood: water mission," a group that helps people find clean drinking water. In the last four years, she has raised about $60,000 from adults and kids for that group and a few others.

"When I was 10 years-old the earthquake in Haiti hit and I was really affected by that. It was kind of the first time I saw outside of my own little world," she said. "I was in fifth grade. And I just wanted to help immediately."

Cerone came up with a twist on the traditional driveway lemonade stand.

"I rallied my class and we had a lemonade war, boys versus girls," she said. "We raised about $4,000 in two weeks and all my friends wanted to keep doing fun events like that."

So she has put on about two dozen more under the name LemonAid Warriors, which she's filed to become a non-profit organization. One event turned a girly manicure party into a “philanthroparty” that gathered more than 400 toiletries to donate to the poor. Another recruited the 1990s band Hanson for a one-night party to help raise money for blood: water mission.

This may not sound educational. But experts said Cerone is gaining invaluable life experience. And as the economy continues to shift towards more entrepreneurial ventures, she’s picking up skills that will put her ahead of the pack.

"Activities in which children are able to have a choice in what they want to do and take on some leadership responsibilities and interact with positive adult role models can benefit kids into their early adulthood," said RAND education researcher Catherine Augustine.
Administrators at Cerone's private school, the Archer School for Girls, told her the same thing.

"The middle school director said to Lulu: get a B," recalled her mother, Lisa Cerone. "This matters. Work hard, but if you get a B because of all this extra stuff, don’t worry about it."

The philanthropic work has made Cerone a bit of a star. Mattel created a cartoon character based on her life for it's Monster High franchise. It’s part of the company’s attempt to tap into socially responsible teens. Her character is a punk rocker-teen philanthropist called Boo-Lu Cerone.

That's because along with going to Africa, Cerone will be playing with three bands this summer.

"I have three to four band practices a week so that’s pretty crazy," she said. "I play the drums, I play piano, and I taught myself guitar and bass this year.

"I also love acting," she added. "I was in my middle school play and musical this year."

Cerone already knows what she wants to be when she grows up: a documentary filmmaker. Her father is Hollywood writer and television producer Daniel Cerone, whose credits include the Dexter, the Mentalist and Charmed.

Along with the Africa trip and playing with her bands, Cerone also will be learning documentary filmmaking skills this summer.

A few days before the Africa trip, Cerone visited a video production team in a Hollywood studio that was putting the finishing touches on video segments of her interviewing other young philanthropists. She'll feature the segments on her web site.

In short, Cerone will do more this summer than most adults accomplish in an entire year.

All those competing priorities have put her mother a little on edge. She said her big challenge this summer will be to get Cerone to kick up her feet for a while and do nothing.
"I worry about her burning out," Lisa Cerone said. "I see these passions and I can see how saying yes to too many things could be detrimental."