Lexi Mariash appears as many a 6th grader—bubbly, carefree and unsettlingly technologically adept. She discovered gymnastics last year, in which she practices on the bars, beams and vault but excels on the floor. And when she was 10, Mariash started her first non-profit. Naming the operation Turtle Inc., she dedicated the project  to raising funds for the feeding and care of sea turtles at Mote Marine, where Mariash used to while away the days with her father. However, she marks the beginning of her journey at the arrival of her friend Cheesey, a sea turtle stuffed animal she received around age seven. Something about the fuzzy facsimile stirred something inside, a drive that family trips to Mote and turtle hatcheries in the Cayman Islands could only foster, but not ignite. Mariash wanted to know more. “I did research, found out that they were endangered and I wanted to help,” Mariash says, who began crafting Rainbow Loom bracelets and selling them to raise money for the creatures, but remained unsure how to connect her fundraising to concrete results. Through Mote Marine board member Dean Eisner and her father Brian, Mariash met with marine biologists and staff from Mote and donated her sales. Staff invited her to meet the sea turtles and sell her bracelets at the next Turtle Run. Turtle Inc. continues to expand and find new ways to help in the rehabilitation and care of sea turtle populations. In addition to continuing to sell bracelets, Mariash plans a miniature golf tournament for this year, with the goal of raising money to cover all of the feeding expenses for the turtles in the coming year. The adults have already signed on, with Mariash receiving support and guidance from community leaders and organizations like Brides Against Breast Cancer. With an itemized budget from Mote documenting the cost of turtle care, she’s already planning how to tackle medical costs the year after that. But key to her plan is mobilizing children just like her. “My thing was just not to let any ceilings stop her. Whatever she wanted to do, I didn’t want there to be a limit,” says her father, who stands content to watch Lexi forge her own path and continually impress. Self-starting suits her—she makes digital commercials for Turtle Inc., and designed her own web page for the company. “She steals my thunder,” he says.“You can never be too young to make a difference,” says the young Mariash. “People will take you seriously if you have a good idea.”  SRQ

PHOTOGRAPHY BY EVAN SIGMUND