Three years ago, then-seven-year-old Dana Perella had never baked a cookie. That all changed when she learned that her friend Mila had been diagnosed with a rare and fatal disease called Batten. Dana wanted to help fundraise for a cure and, knowing that people like cookies, she baked a big batch, loaded up her red wagon, and sold the baked goods door-to-door in her Boulder neighborhood. She kept going until she met her goal of raising $1,000 for Batten research. But it didn’t feel like enough. Today, Dana’s sweet efforts have resulted in an official nonprofit called Cookies4Cures. She and her team of volunteers have baked 20,236 cookies so far and raised $161,270 to fund research into five rare pediatric diseases.

“I still have trouble believing that number,” Dana says. Although some cookie sales still take place via wagon, the Cookies4Cures fundraising operation has expanded into Boulder pop-ups, during which Dana sets up outside of grocery stores and restaurants, trading baked goods for donations. Her pitch? “Take as many cookies as you want and donate what makes your heart feel good.”

Besides providing a sugar fix and raising money for good causes, Dana is also boosting awareness for the rarest diseases, the ones that don’t get much attention but still affect children in her community, like Mila, who passed away earlier this month. Dana is in a fight against time for other friends, like three-year-old Sophie Rosenberg, who has a rare genetic disorder called multicentric carpotarsal osteolysis (MCTO).

“Dana is one of our best friends at this point—she is truly a hero,” says Lauren Feder Rosenberg, Sophie’s mom and co-owner of Boulder restaurants Santo and Blackbelly. Dana hosts monthly cookie pop-ups outside of Santo (the next is on March 14 from 10 a.m.–1 p.m.) to fund MCTO research through Sophie’s nonprofit, Sophie’s Neighborhood. Rosenberg says: “We are so grateful for all the love that goes into Dana’s business, which is driven by some impressive work by her mom, Alexis Perella. The two of them have been a major comfort for us and our most hands-on supporters since we started our nonprofit after receiving Sophie’s scary diagnosis. What Dana is doing is so special. How many 10-year-olds are willing to work hard to change the futures of their peers? It’s amazing.”

Dana has raised more than $11,000 for Sophie’s Neighborhood with her cookie sales and just hit a goal of collecting $50,000 for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) research, a debilitating disease afflicting her friend Ben. Because of her efforts, she won a 2020 Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, which honors 25 young leaders making a positive impact on their communities. Dana used her $10,000 Barron Prize for SMA research. “That’s research that’s happening because a bunch of kids got together and sold a bunch of cookies,” mom Alexis says.

To help Dana and her cookie crusade to cure rare pediatric diseases, you can donate via her Gofundme page, where every dollar goes to help fund treatments, or volunteer for Cookies4Cures as a baker. If you live in Boulder or will be nearby on a cookie pop-up day, you can also order cookies for pick up.

Both Dana and Alexis feel lucky to be in a position to help families fundraise for treatments and cures. “We’re fortunate that we have the bandwidth to be able to help without being quite so in the trenches,” Alexis says. “If you look at Sophie’s family, her parents are put in the position where they’re caring for a kid with special needs and trying to raise millions of dollars to create a treatment that’s never been done before. Cookies4Cures helps by providing an avenue for fundraising for these types of endeavors. Kids with really complex, ongoing medical needs, and then their families are also raising money on top of it…we’re fortunate to be able to help.”

Dana hopes to someday have Cookies4Cures campaigns for every rare pediatric disease out there. And for children looking to help change the world around them, the 10-year-old has two pieces of advice: “First, believe in yourself. You can’t get anywhere without believing you can. The second is to just start. There are a thousand things that can go wrong, but most of them aren’t going to happen and there will always be problems you don’t expect. If you just keep on planning forever, you’ll never get to actually make a difference.”

You can find the Gofundme page for Cookies4Cures here. Its next cookie pop up will be at Santo (1265 Alpine Ave., Boulder) on Sunday, March 14 from 10 a.m.–1 p.m.

Allyson Reedy
Allyson Reedy
Allyson Reedy is a freelance writer and ice cream fanatic living in Broomfield.