Global ambassadors

Local family to make yearlong global trip doing good deeds

by Sarah Melton

J.D. Lewis and his sons, Jackson, 13, and Buck, 8, are giving up almost everything to travel across 12 countries and make a difference in the world.

“Jackson came home one day and said, ‘Dad, we have this incredible life. Why aren’t we doing something to make a difference in the world?’” Lewis said. “He said, ‘Why aren’t we doing more?’ … It really struck a chord with me.”

Lewis, owner of The Actor’s Lab in Charlotte, longtime actor and well-known acting coach, saw Jackson’s idea as an opportunity to teach his sons a powerful lesson. He formed Twelve in Twelve, a nonprofit organization, with the goal of taking his sons to 12 countries in 12 months.

“We are on this planet for such a short period of time and for those people who live in fear and don’t do what they want to do, I think it’s sad,” Lewis said. “Putting this project together is a big dream, but it’s also a lot of big work.”

Lewis and his sons will travel to Russia, India, China, Cambodia, Senegal, Rwanda, Tanzania, Australia, South Georgia Island, Paraguay, Peru and Haiti. They leave in July and return July 2012 as changed people.

Downsizing life

The family is moving out of their spacious Charlotte home into a small, one-bedroom apartment to learn what it is like to live in a small space without so many luxuries.

“I think it will be an amazing challenge for all of us,” Lewis said. “I think it will be a life-changing event.”

Lewis is renting their current home and will rent the apartment, so he does not have to worry about selling any property. Some personal belongings will go in storage, but he’s selling most of it – including his car. The only bills Lewis expects to keep paying while traveling arehealth and life insurance.

A friend will care for the family’s two dogs while they are gone. Jackson, an eighth-grader at Northwest School of the Arts, and Buck, a second-grader at Eastover Elementary School, will be homeschooled while traveling.

The family will be packing light for the trip, only the bare necessities.

“We are bringing five outfits for the entire trip – four pairs of jeans, some shirts and a dress outfit because we are meeting some diplomats – and two pairs of shoes,” Lewis said.

Supporting the Lewis family

Lewis and his boys will each need nine visas and 13 immunizations, totaling more than $3,000, to travel to their destinations. The whole trip cost  about $300,000.

Different companies have stepped up to help them in their journey, including Build-A-Bear Workshop, Scholastic Book Clubs, Clif Bar & Co. and Sandals.

Buck, his youngest son, wrote a letter to Jorgen Vig Knudstorp, the chief executive officer of Lego, asking the company to donate Lego toys to needy kids and make him a global ambassador. Buck got his wish. Lego is shipping toys to distribute to children at all 12 destinations.

(from left) J.D. Lewis, Jackson Lewis, and Buck Lewis

The community also has shown support for the family’s mission. Lewis is holding four major fundraisers before he and his sons leave North Carolina. But some of the most touching donations have come from people they don’t even know.

“One man from Wisconsin sent me $10 and said, ‘I so believe in your trip. I haven’t worked in two years. I am so embarrassed to only give you $10,’” Lewis said. “I said, ‘Your contribution means more to me than you will ever know.’”

Making a difference

The Lewis trio will stay with host families and participate in outreach projects at each destination. The projects include working at an orphanage in Russia, passing out mosquito nets to reduce disease in Senegal and rescuing abused elephants and releasing them back into the wild in Cambodia. In addition to those projects, Lewis will teach acting classes to people in China and Cambodia.

Lewis wants to raise an additional $8,500 to build a well in Uganda, where some have to walk 30 miles to get water and carry it home on their back.

“Can you imagine?” he said. “We have no concept of that. If we could build a well, it would be in the center of four different villages so that those four villages would have access to it and they could have their own water. I would love to do that for them.”

Jackson will chronicle the family’s journey at, a weekly video and written blog, which will be made available to middle schools and high schools across America. Emulsion Arts, an award-winning film production company in Charlotte, and Lewis are making a documentary of the family’s trip.

After Lewis and his sons return home, Lewis plans to establish The Twelve in Twelve Network, a resource to help guide people who are interested in doing global relief work. The organization would do all of the important planning and make arrangements for individuals, families or groups.

“I want to teach my kids to give and be men the world needs,” Lewis said. “I want to spend time with my kids and do something extraordinary. I want them to come back and appreciate what they have in their lives.”

Want to help?

Twelve in Twelve will hold a 12-hour dance-a-thon from noon to midnight June 4 at Hart Witzen Gallery, 136 E. 36th St., Charlotte. Tickets are $25 per person.

For more information, visit or call 310-621-3900.

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