Being a mom is perhaps the most demanding yet rewarding job there is. But when you have the odds stacked against you, it takes a special kind of grit — and the support of community — to become the mother you yearn to be.
Wellington resident Julie Khanna knows something about that.
Raised by a hardworking single mother at a socioeconomic disadvantage here in Palm Beach County, she became a single mother herself as a teenager. Although she couldn’t finish high school with her friends, she sought a GED. And after overcoming many obstacles, Julie, a first-generation college graduate, completed her degree with young daughter Lillian at her side.
Today, as a successful entrepreneur and mother of three, Julie realizes what it took to change the odds for her own life as well as her children’s. As the recently appointed chair of the development committee at Community Partners of South Florida, she now has the chance to change the odds for others.
“I really fit the model of the teenagers that Community Partners of South Florida is trying to help,” Julie said. “They are committed to transforming the lives of children and families facing social, emotional and financial adversity. Looking back, I know if I had Community Partners in my corner, they could have been an advocate for me. Teens need someone to fight for them.”
Julie’s daughter Lillian is that someone.
As Julie’s first order of business as chair, she appointed 19-year-old Lillian to become a volunteer member. Believing in the power of youth, Julie knows that “real change happens through them.”
Lillian, like her mother, sees how she can be an advocate and a voice for change.
“I am especially grateful to have a position where I can bring the unique perspective of teenagers and share their concerns,” Lillian said. “My mom worked really hard to provide a life for me that wasn’t riddled with the same challenges she faced, but I can still be a voice for other young people in economically challenged groups and bring a realistic view of their challenges.”
Scott Hansel, CEO of Community Partners of South Florida, is thankful to have this mother-daughter team drive awareness and fundraising for the nonprofit agency.
“Julie’s lived experience as a single mother and Lillian’s advocacy for youth will benefit the parents and teens we serve tremendously,” he said. “They are deeply in touch with what it takes to help families build their own strengths and resiliency as we strive to do every day through a comprehensive system of supports, including health, housing and community.”
Julie and Lillian Khanna are no strangers to volunteerism. And they share one particular cause: youth. Julie has served the Boys & Girls Club here in Wellington for more than eight years through fundraising and supporting events, including the annual dinner-dance. She is also a board member of Prom Beach, collecting prom dresses for teenagers, a volunteer at the Soup Kitchen in Boynton Beach, and an advisory council member for Around Wellington.
Lillian, a communications major when she attended the Bak Middle School of the Arts and the Alexander W. Dreyfoos High School of the Arts, has used her voice to speak for her generation, which earned her a seat on the countywide youth council, Future Leaders United for Change, at just 16 years old.
A representative from the organization heard Lillian speak at a Wellington town hall meeting after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting about students’ concerns. That speech launched her early career as a youth advocate, eventually rising to a leadership position on the steering community for Future Leaders United for Change, a part of Palm Beach County’s Birth to 22: United for Brighter Futures Alliance that supports youth who are experiencing homelessness, in foster care or are facing other socio-economic challenges.
Lillian sees her role as a way for others to share youth voices and be heard to determine their own futures.
“We will never know a person’s full potential unless we give them an opportunity,” Lillian said. “Teenagers are more useful than anyone would ever think when you give them a position of power. Instead of being talked about, they need to be talked to. I was given that opportunity, and I’m using it to change my life and the lives of others.”
When you speak to Lillian, you can see the impact of a mother like Julie, who believes in “investing feverishly” in her children. Julie has instilled the value of volunteerism in all her children, as well as the spirit of entrepreneurship.
Lillian launched her own videography company, L Khanna Productions, at the age of 14, and today is producing videos for nonprofits and the equestrian community while a full-time student at Florida State University. Thirteen-year-old Nikhil, a communications major at Bak, started his own tech support business with the know-how to build computers piece by piece. Not to be outdone by her siblings, 12-year-old Devi owns and operates a home-ground spice business, Devi Masala, that she started at the age of eight, and counts Vanilla Ice and Sara Hopkins Ayala as customers. Her web site, www.devimasala.shop, was built by her brother.
Julie brings all her children’s businesses together to support her own, Khanna Connections, a communications firm specializing in medical and health industries that includes Wellington clients the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital Foundation/JDCHealth Specialty Center; the Pulmonary, Critical Care & Sleep Disorders Institute of South Florida, the Neil S. Hirsch Family Boys & Girls Club of Wellington and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Palm Beach County. “Our work overlaps, and we all find ways to work together professionally,” Julie said.
The Khannas also keep much of their business in Wellington, and they are grateful for the lives they have been afforded during their 11 years living in the community. “Wellington has provided a lot of opportunities for my family,” Julie said. “For us, it’s about the relationships and friends we have made and how that has translated to our community involvement and our business.”
Lillian sees her relationship with her mother and her entire family in the same way she views her role with Community Partners of South Florida and their mission to partner with families to help them succeed. “We can accomplish on our own, but together we’re unstoppable!” she said.
To learn more about Community Partners of South Florida, visit www.cp-cto.org.