9-year-old's lemonade stand raises nearly $4,000 for Detroit

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DETROIT – Days after his internationally-known lemonade stand closed, 9-year-old Joshua Smith’s idea to help cash-strapped Detroit netted close to $4,000 in sales and donations. After being hailed as a “hero” by the Detroit City Council and commended by Mayor Dave Bing, Smith and his family are grateful for the generosity of others in helping to more than triple his goal.

“It’s close $3,600,” Flynn Smith, Joshua’s father, said. After the sale ended last week, people continued to send cards and money through a PayPal account set up by the family.

“People had us another $70 at church on Sunday,” Smith said. “Cards still came in the mail with money in them. I think yesterday was the first time that at the end of the day, there was no money coming in on PayPal, so that’s tapering off. But that’s cool, because I’m starting to wonder, when does it end.”

If the last week was any indication, the end may not come for a few more days, as the story of Joshua’s lemonade stand continues to draw interest from around the world. On Tuesday, Smith appeared before the Detroit City Council and was presented with a “Spirit of Detroit” award.

“I’m a believer (in Detroit) and here’s a young man at 9 years old who also believes,” said Detroit Mayor Dave Bing. “I think that bodes very well for the future of the city because when you can get your children to get engaged; to understand the depth of the problem you have and say that ‘I’m not just going to sit on the sidelines’ either.”

“I think it will permeate throughout our city,” Bing said of the spirit of Joshua’s fundraiser. “I hope that does happen. We don’t want a lot of kids doing what he’s done necessarily, but we want them to feel engaged.”

Last Friday, the Rosa Parks Scholarship Foundation announced that it would award Joshua a $2,000 scholarship when he graduates high school – as long as he graduates with at least a 2.5 grade point average. The foundation normally awards scholarships only to high school graduates.

“Special consideration for a scholarship was given to Joshua because at such a young age, he is an enterprising, civic-minded young man who shares Mrs. Parks’ spirit of service and commitment to building a brighter future in his community,” Delora Tyler, the foundation president, told the Detroit Free Press. “We look forward to fostering our relationship with him as he completes his education and becomes our leader of tomorrow.”

Joshua’s mother, Rhonda Smith, played a big role in getting the initial word out about her son’s lemonade stand, using her blog as well as her Facebook page and Twitter feed to promote it. She had no idea it would go viral.

“I couldn’t imagine it at all,” Mrs. Smith said. “I told someone that the greatest lesson that I see, even though there are several lessons on so many levels for all of us, is the power of prayer. I think a lot of times we discount that because of social media and we spread the word. But God has to inspire people to (donate).”

“I could never have imagined this,” she added. “But here’s one young man who decided that he wanted to pray about the conditions in our city and he had this spark of an idea. I really believe that it’s the Lord that gave him the idea.”

There were risks involved in Joshua’s venture, including that someone would attempt to rob him or his family. Rhonda Smith said every precaution was taken to make sure that the money was not out in the open and that Joshua was never alone.

“People are shady, flat out,” Rhonda Smith said, adding that business have approached them about their son endorsing products. “People were saying that he might get stuck up during the sale. It’s Detroit. Any urban area where its people are struggling, you have to be cautious about what you’re doing. We recognized that people have tried to exploit him.”

“We’ve had several offers that we’ve had to turn down from people trying to give Josh things and it just didn’t feel right,” Mrs. Smith added. “He wanted to do this for his city. He didn’t want to do it for fame or fortune.”

Joshua’s father said that he never left too much money out in the open and intentionally kept the stand away from the sidewalk. He also made daily deposits to keep large quantities of money out of the house.

“My wife and I had a gentleman who wanted us to come set up the popcorn stand on the lot of his business,” Mr. Smith said. “We didn’t even negotiate that one. If you want to hire Josh, you’re welcome to hire me too. We just didn’t want anything to detract from the purity of it.”

The rest of the money the Smiths have received will be donated to the city later in the week. The family hopes that they have helped inspire others, regardless of their age, to follow their heart in terms of giving back.

“One man can make a difference,” Flynn Smith said. “If you’ve learned nothing from Biblical history, God used 12 guys to turn the world over. For Joshua, what my hope is for him is that he’ll never forget that God used one little boy to make a difference.”

“We’ve gotten phone calls from people who said ‘I don’t have no hope and I saw your son do this, and now I have hope,’” said Mr. Smith. “That’s priceless. How much would you pay for the restoration of hope in someone’s life?”

Follow Jay Scott Smith on Twitter: @JayScottSmith