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The Ripple Effect

Thirteen-year-old Xavier Neil is on a mission - to show other kids (and adults alike) that making a difference and giving back to your community doesn't have to be difficult.

Since the age of eight, Xav (alongside his dad Ben and mum Emma), has spent a large amount of his spare time fundraising for a variety of organisations that help those affected by cancer.

He now fundraises under the brand name Good x Karma, and is committed to not only helping those going through difficult times, but to what Xav likes to call ‘The Ripple Effect’ – the power of using your actions to create small ripples and inspire others to do good too.

At just eight years old, Xavier Neil was the first person in Newcastle to sign up for Surfebruary – a month-long swimming and surfing challenge that raises funds for the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, a leading cancer treatment centre in Sydney. Xav was introduced to Surfebruary by a family friend and cancer survivor who had been receiving treatment at the Lifehouse.

Xav’s dad Ben admitted that when they first became involved in Surfebruary in 2019, he and Emma saw it as an opportunity to teach their son a bit about fundraising and giving back. Little did they know, this first taste of charity work would spark a passion in their son, whose impact on people affected by cancer has only continued to grow each year.

“Our family had always had a hand in local fundraising initiatives, so this started out as us wanting to teach Xav a valuable life lesson,” explained Ben. “He was not only the first person in Newcastle to do Surfebruary, but he was also the first kid participating across the country.

“We began with a goal of raising $1000, but managed to reach that target within the first 24 hours thanks to a bunch of local supporters like artist Mitch Revs and Murray from Murray’s Brewery. We ended up raising about $13,000 in that first year.”

Following a successful first fundraising effort, Xav asked his parents whether it had been enough to cure cancer. While in an ideal world, that would have been the ultimate dream, Xav soon began to understand more about what supporting organisations like the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse meant for people impacted by cancer, and so he asked his parents what else they could do to help. Xav was invited to take a tour of the treatment facility to see first-hand the impact his fundraising was having.

“My mum and I had been having fun making soaps and lip balms at home, and we came up with the idea of selling those and donating all of the profits to Chris O’Brien Lifehouse,” said Xav. That’s how Good x Karma came about.”

Xav, who is now 13, has gone on to participate in Surfebruary each year since then, and was also asked to be an ambassador for the charity. Last year it was estimated that around 250 Newcastle locals (including a lot more kids) participated- getting out on their boards every day in February – rain, hail or shine.

Forever looking for more opportunities to give back  and help those impacted by cancer, Xav also became an ambassador for a local charity – Charlie’s Run for Kids. Each year, a group of
about 30 people take on the mammoth task of running the 150-kilometre distance from Seal Rocks to Dudley, in the name of supporting the families of local kids and youth undergoing cancer treatment.

“The Charlie’s Run for Kids story is a pretty remarkable one,” explained Ben. “A young Newcastle girl named Charlie Carr had battled cancer for most of her life, and when she was spending so much time in hospital, she was disappointed with how little arts and craft supplies were available for sick kids like her. She started doing her own fundraising to be able to supply materials and bring some joy to other kids in hospital.

“He was not only the first person in Newcastle to do Surfebruary, but he was also the first kid participating across the country.”

“This led to a conversation between her dad and a group of his mates, who after a couple of beers, decided they were going to run from Seal Rocks to Dudley. That first year was pretty rough and quite unorganised, but they managed to raise about $38,000 for the John Hunter Children’s Hospital. Sadly, Charlie passed away when she was eight, but every year since, a group of amateur runners have taken on the challenge. Each year, the organisation chooses two local families with children undergoing cancer treatment to be the beneficiaries of theirfundraising efforts.”

Ben now participates in the run each year, with Emma and Xavier tackling part of the run and supporting each other during their many training sessions. Xav is looking forward to joining the group for the entire journey when he reaches the age of 18, so it looks like they’ve all got a few more years’ worth of running to do yet!

“It’s been incredible to meet the range of different people who join Charlie’s Run for Kids each year,” said Ben. “They’re often not seasoned runners, just people who’ve been touched by cancer in one way or another and are simply looking for a way to give back to these kids. They’re all incredibly driven and motivated.”

Xav proudly shared that since starting his fundraising efforts in 2019, he’s been able to raise around $119,000 for a range of different charities. RunDIPG, Run 2 Cure and Emma’s Warriors are among the list, which are all charities that were either started by or have helped friends of the Neil family.

Xav and Ben find clever and creative ways to raise money, including the sale of apparel like beanies and t-shirts. The Good x Karma tees have sported designs by local artist, Mitch Revs who has generously donated his time and talent since the very start.

“One of the best things about starting Good x Karma has been what we call ‘The Ripple Effect’ – where if you do good things, it will inspire other people to achieve good things too,” said Xav. “I’ve been inspired by so many amazing people on my journey, but I often have others approach me and say that I’ve inspired them as well.”

“People often say – ‘I’d really love to do something for charity, but I don’t know where to start’,” added Ben. “We want to show people that it doesn’t have to be something major in order to make a difference.”

“Most teenagers need a bit of a push, but when it comes to the charity stuff – but I don’t have to push him,” said Ben. “Sure, there’s been some early mornings in February when getting up and out into the surf can be a challenge, but he’s seen how much Surfebruary helps people. I don’t care what he ends up doing when he grows up, as long as he’s a good human. With the empathy and compassion, he’s already shown through his fundraising – I know he’s on the right track.”

Words: Hannah Mills | Photography: Changing Tides and supplied by Good x Karma

As seen in Swell Issue 20. Grab your copy here

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