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Teen giving back is breath of fresh air

It’s rare these days to find teenagers who think about anything other than themselves. That’s not an indictment of today’s teens, but more of a product of biology. Studies have shown that teen brains are more “me” focused than adult brains.

It’s why a teen will walk through a door and let it slam behind them on a mother carrying three small children. Those young brains just can’t get beyond “me.”

But there are exceptions. The granddaughter of Brookhaven’s Evelyn Hanks falls into that category. The teen created her own non-profit organization and regularly goes out of her way to bring joy to the elderly in Hattiesburg where she lives.

Not only does Zoe Fokakis play the piano for nursing home residents, she also raises money to buy them birthday presents.

“When I was in seventh grade, I decided I wanted to be a geriatrician,” Fokakis told a Hattiesburg newspaper. “I’ve always had a heart for the elderly. I’ve always wanted to be a doctor for as long as I can remember.

“My grandfather has a debilitating disease similar to Parkinson’s, and I don’t want anyone to go through that. I want to be able to help.”

It’s rare for anyone to have a heart for the elderly, much less a teenager. How many of us are willing to spend time with our grandparents the way Fokakis spends time with strangers? If you are feeling guilty for not visiting your elderly relatives more often, join the club.

While reading about Fokakis, I thought back to the teenage version of myself. It wasn’t pretty. I paid lip service to respecting my parents, but challenged their rules at every turn. I regularly skipped class and when I was in school, did little. I was a slacker in every sense of the word. I did have a job (several in fact), but only because I needed gas money for my 1968 Mustang GT. It got about 8 miles per gallon. I definitely never offered to contribute to the family food fund, even though I ate more than anyone. And I certainly didn’t volunteer to spend time with old people. I complained about seeing my grandparents once a week — I promptly fell asleep on their couch at every visit. I was a useless individual in many respects.

Which makes Fokakis’s attitude and work ethic all the more impressive to me. She has the same struggles that all teens have, and still focuses her energy on others, not on herself.

Fokakis and her mother got non-profit status with the state for her organization in November 2013 and that next May they hosted a 5K run to raise money for it. The run raised $3,000 for the non-profit — not chump change at all.

“She was very organized and on top of things,” Pastor Dwayne Higgason at Grace Temple said about the run. “All of us who were helping her knew our jobs, and what she expected of us. (She) is a remarkable young lady. She sees with eyes beyond her years. She has the passion of a teenager, and the determination and focus of someone much older.”

Since then, Fokakis has been keeping the coffers filled with donations she gets from collection boxes she has set up at merchants in Forrest and Lamar counties, the Hattiesburg American reported.

“We collect the money and then we use that to make the lives of nursing home residents a better experience,” Fokakis said.

She almost sounds too good to be true. I’m guessing her parents are proud and I know her grandmother is. Hanks stopped by my office this week to visit and told me all about her. As grandmothers go, she’s as doting as they come. And for once, a grandmother’s lofty opinion of her grandchild is probably spot on.

Luke Horton is the publisher of the Daily Leader.