“I entertain to heal.”
The mantra, spoken by Packer Park native Lisa Leone, has guided the 26-year-old actress and humanitarian through an assortment of altruism. Throughout Leone’s life, her charities ranged from hosting an Alex’s Lemonade booth outside of Chickie’s & Pete’s to packing food at Philabundance.
Most recently, though, Leone’s signature slogan has led her benevolence well beyond the streets of South Philly, as the thespian has ventured to Vrindavan, India for her greatest performance yet – sparking the #PeriodProject.
Now a resident of Los Angeles, Leone, a graduate of A.S. Jenks School, William M. Meredith School and Bishop Eustace Prep School, spent the last few months assembling a network of volunteers, actors and advocates – primarily from international organizations Days for Girls and Food for Life Vrindavan (FFLV) – to deliver menstruation kits to hundreds of young women living in underserved communities in rural northern India.
Balancing auditioning for film while looking for volunteering opportunities, Leone never imagined what would unfold on a global scale after relocating to L.A. to pursue her dream four years ago.
“I realized when I was out there – I need to still be fulfilling my hobby for service,” she said. “…I can’t function without doing service with my acting.”
But, Leone began unearthing a relationship between both passions several years ago.
Throughout her middle and high school careers, when Leone wasn’t performing in musicals and choirs, she was volunteering at Pennsylvania Hospital, selling lemonade for pediatric cancer research and assisting her parents with charities at Holy Spirit Church.
After graduating from Bishop Eustace, where she served as president of Students Against Drunk Driving, Leone attended DeSales University to study theater, and both her craft and compassion flourished.
“I really enjoyed giving back, but I also loved with the performing arts,” Leone said. “What ways can I do both?”
Aside from working with the Ryan Seacrest Foundation at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia at this time, Leone was given an opportunity to travel abroad with DeSales through community service.
In 2013, Leone and fellow students spent 20 days in South Africa, where she not only delivered dozens of donations, many of which came from South Philadelphians but helped restore local parks.
“It was truly just trying to understand not just going there and dropping off free stuff,” Leone said. “Going there and really trying to understand what’s happening. I want to have an impact that stays. Not just an impact that’s there when I’m there…It’s just too hard for me not to do something. I’m one of those people who are like, ‘When you see something, say something,’ So, if I see something’s wrong, and it hits me, I can’t sleep.”
For Leone, such insomnia would strike again soon.
When she moved to North Hollywood after graduating in 2015, Leone read to children at the Ronald McDonald House while looking for work as an actor.
But, as she says, she was hungry for more.
Through a nannying job, Leone eventually met Charlotte Lubert, who is CEO of WithoutX Films, a L.A.-based production company that strives “to be a stand for people who otherwise would not be seen or heard and to hold their faces to the light,” according to its mission.
In 2017, Leone was offered the opportunity to join Lubert and her family on a documentary project in India, as WithoutX Films teamed up with FFLV to help the group receive sponsorship for its Vrindavan schools. The India-based organization “educates poor girls in Vrindavan, empowering them to transform their lives and communities, through a service-oriented approach, committed to integrity and excellence,” according to FFVL’s mission.
Featuring actress Marie Avgeropoulos of CW’s The 100, WithoutX Films spent a month shooting #SheMustCount, a six-episode web series, which sheds light on the issues plaguing young women’s lives in Vrindavan, including poverty, education, malnutrition and arranged marriages among students attending the Sandipani Muni School in Vrindavan.
“I’m doing this documentary, and I fall in love,” Leone said. “We’re saving girls from getting married at 14 years old, helping with girls staying in school, getting girls to be sponsored…understanding that girls don’t have a voice there.”
Leone continued auditioning and volunteering for the following two years in LA., including working as a stand-in for “SNL” star Aidy Bryant on the Hulu series Shrill.
Shortly after the 91st Academy Awards aired in February 2019, Leone watched the Period. End of Sentence, a documentary by Rayka Zehtabchi about how women handle menstruation in India. The film clinched the Oscar for best documentary short subject this year.
Having recently returned from India, where she worked with young women, Leone was thunderstruck.
“I’m watching it, and I’m like, ‘I never asked these girls what they did about their periods.’ Couldn’t sleep,” she said. “Could not sleep.”
It wasn’t long before Leone became officially certified as an ambassador of Days for Girls, an international organization that “increases access to menstrual care and education by developing global partnerships, cultivating social enterprises, mobilizing volunteers, and innovating sustainable solutions that shatter stigmas and limitations for women and girls,” according to its mission.
Having already had ties to India through FFLV, Leone pitched the idea of connecting resources from Days for Girls with the schools in Vrindavan.
With a trip opportunity scheduled for less than a month away, Leone then had just three weeks to not only collect hundreds of “Supreme Days for Girls Kits” but prepare instructions to teach the young Indian women how to use the set of non-disposable products.
Immediately, Leone began networking with teachers at the FFLV schools over WhatsApp and reaching out to Days for Girls chapters across the country in a colossal effort to gather 750 kits.
Through the accumulating efforts across the country and world, the #PeriodProject was born.
“It was my mission of getting Days for Girls connected with FFLV but also bringing awareness about Days for Girls, helping them out…I believed in them, so I wanted to speak louder about it,” Leone said. “It wound up being this amazing thing where it turned into this whole project.”
Along with donated kits from local Days for Girls enterprises, which included a major event at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in L.A. where 80 volunteers assembled the kits in mid-March, the #PeriodProject reached new heights when Avgeropoulos started an online campaign for more funding.
The GoFundMe page, which originally had a goal of $1,000, reached more than $5,000 in a week. After reaching the 750-kits objective, Leone says the extra funds went toward shipping the items in nearly 80 suitcases.
With the goal clinched, Leone and her roommate, Kiersten Spence, who also got certified as an ambassador with Days for Girls, embarked on their journey to Vrindavan.
During four classes each day among 20 girls per lesson, the duo spent the next three weeks teaching hundreds of students about human sexuality and how to use the kits, as the young women were generally using unsanitary means of menstruation care.
“Our pitch had to be different…It was very overwhelming because you have to adapt to what their issues are,” Leone said.
Before leaving, Leone established 20 #PeriodProject leaders at the schools and left 250 kits in storage.
But, recalling her experience in South Africa, Leone says she has every intention of returning to the village within the next year to not only deliver more kits but, hopefully, teach women there how to make their own non-disposable menstruation products with sewing machines.
“As I told you, I don’t just want to drop this off,” she said, “What about the kids in sixth grade who get their period next year? Forget them? How am I going to sleep?”
In the meantime, Leone has been booked for a commercial and recently received official representation under an acting agency.
She’s home for the summer in South Philadelphia where, naturally, she’ll be volunteering with local organizations, such as Hub of Hope and Ronald McDonald House.
Leone is even in the infancy stages of establishing a nonprofit called Volunteer Together, which hopes to connect those individuals looking to lend helping hands with local charities in the L.A. and Philadelphia areas – all in an effort to bring her global goodwill back home.
“Who I am now is because of South Philly,” Leone said. “…I feel like there’s so many good people, especially in South Philly. We’re a weird city. We’re very crazy with our sports, but we have a heart of gold…I know everything I know from here. I come back here to get grounded.”
To watch the #SheMustCount series, visit here.
To learn more about Days for Girls, visit www.daysforgirls.org.
To learn more about FFVL, visit: www.fflv.org/
To visit the #PeriodProject GoFundMe page, visit here.