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13-year-old heads a company that gives away toys

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SANTA ANA, Calif. - She could probably kick your butt with her second-degree black belt in tae kwon do.

She'd outsmart you with her straight-A report card.

Did we mention that she runs a company that gives away thousands of dollars in toys?

Oh, and she happens to be 13.

Jillian Madrid of Mission Viejo, Calif., does do-gooder things, but she's not a goody-two-shoes. You know the type. The kind who makes you feel bad for not doing enough.

But before you know it, she'll have you donating toys to her company, Angels in Motion, which gives them to Orangewood Children's Home in Orange, Calif.

How could a 13-year-old run her own company? The technical answer is that she applied for a business license and declared herself the sole proprietor. The longer answer is, well, longer.

It all started with a book.

Jillian was 8, and the family was returning from a vacation in Las Vegas. She asked her mother for a Harry Potter book, to add to the large collection she already had.

Leah Madrid said Jillian should check the book out of the library. She was trying to teach a lesson: Don't take for granted that the family could buy her books.

The library? No way, Jillian thought.

Mom explained that a lot of poor children don't even have one book - a fact that took Jillian, who lives in a four-bedroom Mission Viejo home with a backyard swimming pool, by surprise.

"I was shocked," Jillian says. "How do you not have a book to read?"

Leah suggested that Jillian collect books for the poor, never thinking that she actually would do it.

That year, Jillian collected more than 500 books and 20 videos for Orangewood from students, friends and family. She single-handedly helped build a library for the children who have been taken from their families.

She didn't even get to see the kids' faces when she dropped off the books, because she's underage.

"At first I thought I would like to be able to see them, but then I understood, because these kids had just been taken out of their homes," Jillian says. "I like the idea of helping people. I think it has made me a lot more humble and unselfish."

The book experience launched her volunteerism. When an uncle and aunt were diagnosed with cancer, Jillian grew her long brown hair 12 inches and then had it chopped off for Locks of Love, a Florida-based organization that uses the hair to make wigs for cancer patients.

"This was obviously the most personal," her mother recalls. "I thought, 'Oh my gosh. Is she going to back out?'"

When Jillian was 10, she had another idea: collecting the little toys that came in her Happy Meals. Then she asked her little sister. Then her friends, who thought it was kind of weird - until she explained the cause. They donated them to Human Options, a shelter in Irvine, Calif., for battered women and their children.

But her biggest project has been her company. Her father, a senior director at Fluor Corp., and her mother, a human-resources specialist at Toshiba America Business Solutions, urged her to form a business when they saw how many toys she had collected. They wanted her to learn how to monitor a budget, log inventory and be organized.

Their accountant steered them away from forming a nonprofit, saying that the amount of paperwork required wasn't worth it for the amount of money Jillian raises. He said that if the company takes in more than $5,000, it will need to become a nonprofit because of reporting requirements.

Last year, Jillian and three friends she recruited raised $2,000 in toys and cash, with most of it coming from schoolmates, neighbors and families. They gave the bulk of it to Orangewood.

The organization has $200 left, and the girls plan to buy toys for Laura's House, a nonprofit domestic-violence shelter.

Orangewood's deputy director stressed that donations like Jillian's help keep the home running.

"They are very important. Donations play an integral part in what we do," Gary Taylor said. He's impressed by children who have a willingness to donate time for a good cause at such a young age.

At a recent Angels in Motion meeting, Jillian stood at the head of the table, laptop running, delivering a PowerPoint presentation as the girls discussed how to spend the money and which toys to buy.

But business isn't her only focus in life.

Jillian is an honors eighth-grader at Newhart Middle School taking 10th-grade math. Her dream is to go to Stanford. And she's extremely organized; she writes down the dates of her tests and homework in a daily planner.

If you're at the point of rolling your eyes at how perfect Jillian is, just hold on.

She likes to read Teen Vogue and Teen People. She thinks Jennifer Garner, Ben Affleck's new wife, is cool, as well as Jennifer Lopez. And she totally worships Tyra Banks, the model who ignored agencies when they told her she was too fat.

Now Jillian, who stands 5 feet 8 inches, is interested in modeling. She recently went to an agency, where they told her to come back when she gets her braces off.

She dons pink nail polish, wears cutoff shorts and black tennis shoes. Bamboo beads hang from her doorframe, and, no, her room isn't always clean.

She's a girlie girl. She loves Care Bears, has a stuffed panda on her bed and wears a little makeup.

In other words, she's a normal kid.

Who has a company.


(c) 2005, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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