LEBANON — Alona Winningham mowed 10 lawns in one day in August and she never earned a single penny for her toil.
But her commitment to help others did result in a trip to Los Angeles last week and 15 minutes of fame as a guest on the Kelly Clarkson television show. (The show airs at 11 a.m. Tuesday on KPTV, the Portland Fox affiliate; check local listings for other airings.)
Alona, 12, is the daughter of Josh and Kristen Sim and in the seventh grade at Hamilton Creek School. She has four sisters: Emma, 13, Bailey, 11, Brooke, 9 and Chloe, 5.
In August, she learned about a man named Rodney Smith Jr. who has mowed lawns for the elderly, disabled and veterans in all 50 states, not just once, but five times. Smith has also created the 50 Yard Challenge for young men and women to mow 50 lawns each.
If they do, his foundation will provide them with a new lawnmower, weed wacker and leaf blower.
“I’ve only mowed 13 lawns so far, but I’m going to get to 50,” Alona said in an interview on Friday. “I am going to mow another one today."
Alona said her grandmother, Donna Poirier of Sweet Home, has been a big help in providing the names of people who needed their lawn mowed or leaves raked.
“Some people have offered to pay me, but I always tell them that I can’t accept money for this,” Alona said. “The day I mowed the 10 lawns I was very tired, but it feels good to help people.”
The Sim family received a phone call from the Kelly Clarkson show producers a couple of weeks ago and again on Oct. 3.
“They set up everything, including our airline tickets, transportation and our stay at the Hilton Universal City Hotel,” Kristen Sim said. “It was great. They treated us very well and Alona was treated like a star.”
Alona’s grandmother paid her way to take part in the adventure.
The trio arrived Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, they were chauffeured to the studio where the Clarkson show is produced.
“They put makeup on me and got a stain on my shirt,” Alona said. “A wardrobe man spent 10 minutes getting it out. They were very nice.”
Alona was especially impressed with the amount of food that was in her dressing room.
“We had everything — doughnuts, fruit, juices — all kinds of food,” she said.
Alona said she and 15-year-old Dante Domine from North Dakota were on stage at the same time and producers told them to be themselves, and added one bit of advice: Try to look happy. Alona said that wasn't difficult.
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“They went over the things we had talked about on the telephone and said we should stick with that, but there was no script,” Alona said.
Alona said she did not meet Clarkson before the show, but she did manage to slip backstage to watch the three-time Grammy award winner rehearse one of the three songs she would sing during the show.
Alona said her 15 minutes on stage seemed to fly by.
“I was a nervous wreck, but I wasn’t scared,” Alona said.
After the taping, Alona went back to the dressing room, where she and others danced while Clarkson was singing. Clips of those dances are shown as the show’s daily closing credits are shown.
“My dance was funny,” Alona said. “I used a water bottle as a microphone.”
Alona also received a surprise handwritten note from the show’s star.
“Alona, Thank you so much for coming on our show today and spreading such positive, amazing vibes for the world to see and be inspired by! Kelly”
Alona and her family visited Universal Studios before flying home Tuesday night.
The show also will feature Rodney Smith Jr. and 25 young people from Los Angeles, who have taken up his Raising Young Men and Raising Young Women 50 Yard Challenge. Smith has mowed lawns in all 50 states including Hawaii and Alaska.
Smith reportedly suggested that Alona and 15-year-old Dante Domine of North Dakota be on the show out of more than 500 young people who have accepted the challenge.
Alona said she was seated near Smith during taping.
Alona’s mother said she is “super-smart and fun,” but also very quiet, so being on the show is a big leap for her.
Alona said her classmates didn’t seem to be excited by her television debut, but “teachers have gone wild,” she said.
Actor and movie producer Tyler Perry will also be featured on Tuesday’s show.