Local father, two sons prepare for twelve month trip helping people on all seven continents
Three months from now, J.D. Lewis and his two sons will pack their bags and say goodbye to their home, possibly for good. They’re not moving to another city, but rather another country. Twelve of them in fact. Over the next year, the family will travel to all seven continents, volunteering in communities and raising awareness of different issues. All this from a simple conversation between father and son.
“My oldest son, Jackson, came to me one day and said ‘Dad, we have this great life, why aren’t we doing anything to help people?’”Lewis said. “My immediate reaction was who are you and what have you done with my son? But after that, we started talking. We decided we didn’t know what the world needed and so we wanted to find out.”
Lewis started making calls, reaching out to people like Zanzibar Project Director Aida Ayers and Peace Corps Director of Global Operations Esther Benjamin to gather information. Benjamin would end up helping Lewis design the trip and determine which countries to visit.
“In the end, all the countries we looked at were countries that needed help, even if it doesn’t seem that way,” Lewis said. “When (Benjamin) mentioned Australia, I was like really? But you’d be surprised.”
An acting coach for over 20 years, Lewis created the Actor’s Lab in 1990, a drama school in Los Angeles. In 2007, the single father of two packed up his boys and moved to Charlotte, opening up a second branch of the school. His boys, Jackson, 13, and Buck, 8, started attending Charlotte Mecklenburg schools.
After collecting information, Lewis and the boys started talking about the best way to make a difference. They decided to create an organization, Twelve in Twelve, that would help people find ways of volunteering across the world. The family decided they would make the first trip, a pilot program, traveling across the world and bringing along a film crew to document the experience.
Using contacts made during his career, Lewis reached out to a number of people in order to make a trip like this a reality. Some of those contacts became members of the board of directors for the new organization, including former president of Paramount Pictures David Kirkpatrick, former presidential economic advisor Robert Shapiro and Seventh Generation Advisors Executive Kristina Haddad.
“We really worked hard to make this become a reality,” Lewis said. “I’m just proud I have kids who are empathic and care about the world. It’s changed their lives and we haven’t even left yet.”
Each member helped in their own way. The youngest son in the family, Buck, is a master Lego builder and wanted to bring Legos to kids on every stop. To do that, he wrote to the Lego company and asked for donations of the blocks, which he got. Both Buck and Jackson will be recording a video blog of their trip, which will be available to elementary and middle schools both in Mecklenburg County and across America, courtesy of Scholastic.
“We just wanted to make a difference,” Lewis said. “I think everybody wants to do that, they just don’t know how.”
In each of the locations, Lewis and his family will highlight a different global issue. In Russia, they will help at an orphanage. In Cambodia, they’ll work with an animal rescue group that takes in elephants raised for entertainment and re-introduces them to the wild. In India, they’ll venture into the slums with local monks who offer and in Rwanda, Jackson, an alto saxophone player, will help students at a music school damaged by the 2010 earthquake, before performing with their orchestra.
In Antarctica, the group will observe a scientific expedition measuring the hole in the ozone.
With funding secured, a travel map laid out and passports in hand, the only question seems to be what will happen after the family gets back.
“We’re moving out of our house, putting our stuff in storage,” Lewis said. “We don’t know what happens after. I guess we’ll find out.”