Brianna Hendrickson is just like other teenagers. She likes to shop, enjoys her hip hop jazz dance and gymnastics classes, and participates in extracurricular activities. And she texts up a storm.
But she definitely is not an average 14-year old girl.
Brianna skipped a grade in middle school. She is currently a sophomore at the Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice, a college-preparatory high school where students focus on their communication skills, strong reading and writing, and analytical thinking. That would be impressive enough. But what really sets Brianna apart is the fact that she donated $50,000 to Komen Greater NYC in memory of her maternal grandmother, who died from breast cancer before she was born.
How did she do it?
Brianna, like so many of her peers, was raised on the computer. According to her mother Amy, she started playing on the machine when she was only two. As she grew up, Brianna became more agile and skilled. And when she eventually received a cell phone, she began texting. Since Brianna is not your average teen, it follows that she is not your average texter either. She can text at a rate of seven or eight characters a second, an extraordinary feat to behold.
In June 2010, Brianna was visiting her other grandmother in Virginia and heard about a MTV-sponsored texting contest. Her friends encouraged her to sign up, because she could text at such remarkable speed. Brianna entered the contest on a lark — on the last day possible — signing up along with well over a half million other people. After winning preliminary competitions online and watching the contestants whittled down little by little to 250, and then to 32, Brianna’s natural competitive spirit really emerged.
The finals were held at the Roseland Ballroom in Manhattan. While her competitors were flown in from all over, Brianna and her parents were picked up and driven to the event from their home in Brooklyn. Initially, she was not happy about going, because it was her younger brother’s birthday, and she wanted to be there to celebrate with him. Her parents promised she wouldn’t miss the festivities, so, reluctantly, she went.
To ensure fairness and level the playing field, each contestant received a new phone right before the contest. The finals were intense, but the pressure had no effect on Brianna. Whatever the outcome, she was having fun. Brianna out-texted her rivals one by one including a blindfolded texting challenge to text the song “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” finally getting to the last round. The last challenge was to text some updated lyrics to “Old McDonald Had a Farm” (see photo) as quickly as possible. Brianna turned the revised children’s rhyme into an amazing victory, winning $50,000.
There was supposed to be a charity component to the first texting competition but it wasn’t organized in time. In October 2011, reigning texting champion Brianna had to take part in the competition again. Having won the previous year, she really wasn’t interested in participating. She unselfishly wanted someone else to win and have the experience of being the champion. But her parents convinced her to go for it and, without even practicing, Brianna took second place, adding the $10,000 prize to her college fund. But this time the charity texting competition was part of the event and Brianna won the competition, receiving another $50,000 for herself and earning $50,000 for Komen Greater NYC.
Picking Komen Greater NYC as her charity beneficiary was an easy choice. Not only did her grandmother die of breast cancer, her father’s sister and mother’s cousin are breast cancer survivors.
“Brianna has always been self-motivated and smart, an old soul from day one,” said Amy Hendrickson, Brianna’s mother. “She has always done well in school and has always wanted to help.”
“I don’t see this as a big deal,” stated Brianna matter-of-factly. “I don’t understand the fuss.”
“It’s not every day that we receive a donation of $50,000,” said Michelle Marquez, Komen Greater NYC Director of Development. “This is the first time we’ve ever received a gift of this magnitude from a teenager. We are very grateful to Brianna and her parents for their dedication to the fight against breast cancer. Brianna’s donation will do a lot of good for underserved women in our community and for that, I think, it’s only right that we make a ‘fuss.’”
What’s next for Brianna? She’s off to Thailand this summer to spend two weeks working with the less fortunate in a program organized by the Y. You can bet she’ll be texting home with all the news from the other side of the world keep up the good works, Brianna!