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Thirteen-year-old Lizzie Ayoub of Milton, Massachusetts, bears a more-than-passing resemblance to pixyish actress Natalie Portman, and, boy, she can belt out a tune.
She sings and plays the piano at a variety of fundraisers for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. She’s even put out her own CD, full of popular songs and an original composition, “Ice Cream with Suzanne,” based on Lizzie’s special friendship with a St. Jude patient. With profits growing every month, the recording has so far raised more than $5,000 for the children of St. Jude.
She first began stumping for St. Jude at age 8, when she asked her birthday party guests to give to the hospital instead of buying her gifts. The party raised $1,320.
Not every seventh grader does so much for St. Jude kids, but not everyone has such a formidable family legacy to uphold.
Lizzie’s late grandfather, Joseph S. Ayoub, was one of the founding fathers of the hospital. Along with entertainer Danny Thomas and other early supporters, Joseph Ayoub helped to form ALSAC, the fundraising organization of St. Jude. Lizzie’s father, Paul, and her uncle Joe are active hospital Board members.
“I grew up hearing about St. Jude in conversations, and it’s always been a part of my life,” said Lizzie.
But Lizzie has her own, more personal reason for supporting the hospital. At 6 years old, Lizzie visited Memphis, Tennessee, and bonded with 11-year-old St. Jude patient Suzanne Pavlat at an ice cream party.
“When I came across Suzanne, she was there with her friend having the best time, just laughing her head off,” Lizzie said. “My dad introduced us, and she was so outgoing. She came right out and said, ‘Hi, I’m Suzanne.’ Even me not being sick, I don’t know if I could be that outgoing. She had a life-threatening disease, but there she was scooping ice cream with the biggest smile on her face.”
When Suzanne lost her battle with neuroblastoma one year later, Lizzie was crushed.
“I remember it so vividly,” Lizzie said. “I was in the car, and my dad just told me. There was a pause. I felt like time actually stopped for a second. I couldn’t imagine someone my age dying. After that, I just always wanted to do something for Suzanne.”
Songwriting has provided that outlet. Five years after losing her friend, Lizzie wrote her thoughts about Suzanne and set them to music. The song provides another way of keeping Suzanne’s memory alive. “She’ll never be forgotten,” said Lizzie. It also allows her to raise money for the hospital determined to find cures for pediatric cancer and other catastrophic diseases of childhood.
Suzanne’s parents have listened to the song. “Her father, Jack, said that he loved it,” Lizzie said. “He said ‘There’s not one day that we don’t cry, but this was a happy cry.’”
Lizzie hopes to have a career as a music artist, and she models herself after Norah Jones, another performer with a sultry voice who writes her own songs and plays the piano. Her stage fright disappears once she takes the stage, and she’s a poised and confident singer. She believes that “Suzanne is really pushing me on.”