Alexys Fleming, a 23-year-old expert make-up artist living with type 1 diabetes, who taps into family, friends and a network of millions of YouTube followers to raise money for the American Diabetes Association, has been named the winner of the 2016 Cash, Sweat and Tears Award.
The award annually honors an extraordinary volunteer who has taken on physical challenges or overcome tremendous obstacles to conduct peer-to-peer fundraising for charity. Fleming was honored during a ceremony today in Orlando at the annual conference of the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum.
Since graduating high school in 2010, Fleming has raised more than $80,000 for the American Diabetes Association through the Chicago Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes and by hosting private fundraising events. Much of that money has come through directly soliciting her fans and followers on YouTube — some of whom have actually been motivated by Fleming to fundraise for ADA alongside her.
She has also leveraged her online celebrity to help thousands of young people living with diabetes conquer their fears of the disease and become advocates and fundraisers.
Fleming — a well-known cosmetologist who has nearly 2 million subscribers to her YouTube channel — creates an annual video during American Diabetes Month to reduce the stigma associated with having diabetes and to help fellow patients feel empowered to better manage their disease.
The humorous videos are inspired by her own experiences as a teen. Fleming, who was diagnosed with diabetes at age 13, faced regular bullying in high school from classmates who didn’t understand the disease. She also had to overcome an intense fear of needles and blood to treat her condition.
“After dealing with all of that, I would look around and think about all of the other campaigns I would see to raise awareness and money for other causes,” Fleming said. “It’s great to see all of these other causes getting attention and would wonder why there was so much ignorance about diabetes.”
As Fleming began researching organizations that work on diabetes research and awareness, she discovered the American Diabetes Association — and quickly became involved in raising money for the organization.
Ever since, she has felt as though she is part of a larger community — and she has worked closely with the organization to raise money and find ways to connect with other people living with diabetes. .
“Everyone at the ADA was so amazing,” Fleming said. “They gave us banners. They gave us pins. It just felt so right. It helped me do everything in a positive way, instead of being angry about it.”
Fleming’s fundraising efforts for the American Diabetes Association began simply. As a beauty school student, she worked with the school to host fundraising events in which students would provide manicures in exchange for $5 donations to the Association. .
But as she grew more confident in her fundraising ability — and as she started to build a following on YouTube for a series of how-to videos on makeup and body painting — Fleming began getting involved in peer-to-peer fundraising, through the American Diabetes Association Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes in Chicago.
Each year, Fleming uses her YouTube channel to solicit donations and to inspire followers who have diabetes to take part in the walk through her team. By 2014, she was raising in excess of $30,000 a year.
“Alexys offers an inspiring example of how to use online networks and video to raise money and awareness for a cause,” said David Hessekiel, the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum’s founder and president. “She has become a true champion for those with diabetes and for the ADA.”
As the winner of the Cash, Sweat & Tears Award, Fleming gets a $1,000 check from award sponsor Blackbaud, a trophy, a customized commemorative t-shirt from Boundless and a collection of footwear and apparel from New Balance.
“We are honored to continue to work with Alexys in Chicago as her ambition has been contagious. Her ideas and actions have grown every year we’ve worked together and something tells us this recognition is only the tip of the iceberg,” said Allison Welton, Associate Director of Development for the American Diabetes Association. “She is constantly empowering youth to step up and take action across the country and her fundraising efforts encompass creativity, awareness and advocacy. We cannot say thank you enough to Alexys and to the fundraisers she has inspired for their dedication to furthering the mission of the American Diabetes Association.”