LSU Health New Orleans Newsroom

5th Grader Helps Save Cancer Patients

Josh Bertuglia mans his lemonade stand

Meet Joshua Bertuglia. He looks like a typical 5th-grader who loves all things football and New Orleans Saints and who is leaning toward becoming a chef. He says his mother wouldn’t let him become a professional football player because he might break his leg. But this young man is anything but typical. His wisdom, compassion and generosity far exceed his years. At 10 years old, he has already achieved what some adults never will. And he’s just gotten started.

It all began with lemonade stands. Increasingly popular, lemonade stands even have their own designated day now. Josh wanted one. He wanted it bad, and he was not above begging.

“I’d been trying to do a lemonade stand for a long time,” Josh recalled, “and I was really happy when my Dad finally told me I could have one.”

But the purpose of Josh’s lemonade stand was not the 130-year-old entrepreneurial tradition of children learning how to start, own and operate a business through lemonade stands. You see, Josh didn’t want to sell lemonade at all. He had something else in mind. Josh planned to give it away, along with sweet tea, in hopes of raising money for a worthy cause.

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When Josh shared his plan with his dad, Adam Bertuglia offered his son some suggestions. “I told him he could give to the church or an organization.”

Josh liked the idea of an organization, but had no idea which one, so he asked his dad if he knew of any.

Bertuglia, whose company just happened to be building Al Copeland Jr.’s house at the time, told his son about the Al Copeland Foundation.

“I explained to him about Al Jr. and his dad and the foundation he had started because of it, and that was all I had to really say,” Bertuglia said.

Joshua Bertuglia at Copeland's

"I want to give other people hope to let them know that their families can be safe without cancer."

Josh Bertuglia
“My dad said that Al Copeland lost his dad to cancer and that made me very sad and upset because I love my dad and my relatives very much,” said Josh. “So when my dad said I could have a lemonade stand, I said you know what, I’ll do it for them, and I’ll donate to them because I want people to live a good life without cancer. And I know how sad I’d be if my mom or dad died, so I want to give other people hope to let them know that their families can be safe without cancer.”
Josh worked from open houses his father’s company built during the Home Builders Association of Greater New Orleans Parade of Homes. He was there four days—Saturday and Sunday on back-to-back weekends.

“I set up my little lemonade stand, and I just started asking people, ‘Hey, do you want some lemonade or some sweet tea?’” Josh explained. “And if they said yes or they said no, I gave them some posters and told them, ‘This is what’s going to happen if you donate to this lemonade stand.’ It was free. You could have as much as you wanted and donate if you wanted to.”

The Bertuglias present a check to Al and Liz Copeland at Chicken Jam

The first year, Josh raised $711.95. This year, the total he donated to the ACF was $732.00.

“It made me feel excited because I got to raise money for people who needed my help,” Josh shared.

Holly and Adam Bertuglia are so proud of their second oldest, one of their five children. “It’s really just a blessing having someone at such a young age be aware of the needs of others and to be sensitive to that,” said Adam Bertuglia. "It warms your heart. It’s something that we’re really excited about, and we’re grateful that he wants to do. I just hope it stays with him. Generosity is something that’s important – helping other people, doing for people when it’s not required of you, when you don’t have to do it—that’s a really great trait, I think. That’s what we’re trying to show all of our children – that it’s important to be like that.”

The Al Copeland Foundation (ACF) was the result of a promise the Copeland family made to their dad that they would find a cure for Merkel Cell Carcinoma, the cancer that took the life of Al Copeland Sr.

research at LSU Health New Orleans Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center
To that end, the ACF and LSU Health New Orleans formed a partnership in 2011. ACF raises funds, which it donates to LSU Health New Orleans’ Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center for both basic research and clinical trials. The Copeland family came full circle when LSU Health became 1 of 11 sites chosen to participate in a clinical trial for a new immunotherapy drug for Merkel Cell Carcinoma. The FDA approved that drug, Keytruda, at the end of 2018, and the local patient in the trial supported by the ACF remains cancer free to this day.
Josh is looking forward to visiting the LSU Health New Orleans Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center and meeting that patient in the near future.

At a recent lunch with his parents hosted by Al and Liz Copeland at Copeland’s in Kenner, Josh was the guest of honor. Al Jr. told Josh, “It’s people like you who really make a difference -- people who really believe in what we believe in and try to raise money for the cause and trust us that we’re going to put it in a great place and do great things with it.”

Al Copeland shakes Josh Bertuglia's hand at Copelands luncheon
Marveling at the maturity of this young man, Copeland continued, “I think he’s amazing. And he did this on his own. We didn’t have anything to do with it. He didn’t say anything; he just did it. He sent me some pictures of his lemonade stand and signage. And then he gave us a check on stage at Chicken Jam.”

As a thank you, the Copelands presented Josh with the ACF pin reserved for cancer survivors and those who do phenomenal things to help save lives and end cancer.

They also asked him to be the ACF’s Kid Ambassador. Josh will serve as a role model for other kids to show how they, too, can make a difference.

Liz Copeland told Josh,” Your heart was there, and your passion was there to want to help people find a cure for cancer. And we want you to be able to get out to other kids who feel the same way to help us find other cures for other cancers.”

A thrilled Josh quickly accepted. “I think that would be awesome!”

Dr. Larry Hollier, Chancellor of LSU Health New Orleans, is quite impressed with young Josh. “This world needs more people like Josh. He is such an inspiration. We owe him and his family a huge debt of gratitude for his efforts to support our work in advancing cancer treatments. And I sincerely hope he’ll change his mind about becoming a chef and enroll in our medical school instead!”

Stay tuned!
Bertuglia family with Copelands holding sign