Some people live and love more in twelve years than others do in 100. Jessie Joy Rees was one of those people.
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Jessie was a vibrant, athletic 11-year-old who always had a smile on her face, until she received a shocking diagnosis in December 2011. Jessie had a brain tumor, and it was inoperable. Doctors estimated that she had just 1% chance of survival, and less than a year to live.
With no other treatment options, her family enrolled Jessie in a clinical trial with a grueling schedule. For weeks she endured 30 rounds of radiation, followed by a daily dose of chemotherapy. Incredibly, the pain and uncertainty never dulled her innate shine, and Jessie remained upbeat and positive throughout it all.
About three weeks into her treatment, she was driving away from the hospital with her parents when she asked an astute yet unexpected question. She had just learned that many of the sick children in the hospital didn’t get to go home at the end of the day, and her only thought was how she could help ease their burden.
“How can we help them?” she asked her parents.
The next morning, Jessie’s dad, Erik Rees, came downstairs to find his daughter filling paper bags with stickers, toys, artwork, and any other fun tidbits she could find around the house. She’d already made five of them by the time he discovered her work, and he agreed to ask the hospital if she could distribute them around the children’s cancer ward. They said yes, as long as they swapped the paper bags for plastic jars.
That’s how Jessie’s JoyJars were born!
“JoyJars are 64-ounce plastic jars stuffed to the very top with new games, toys, and activities for kids fighting cancer,” said Erik.
The jars were named for Jessie, whose middle name was Joy. She adored making the jars and handing them out at hospitals. Sadly, she lost her fight with cancer less than one year after her diagnosis, but she managed to make over 3,000 jars while fighting cancer. Now that she’s gone, her family has continued her work, starting a non-profit called NEGU, short for Jessie’s personal motto: “Never ever give up.”
So far, more than 400,000 JoyJars have been delivered to child cancer patients in all 50 states and more than 50 countries. It’s the Rees family’s way to honor their daughter’s legacy of kindness and compassion.
In 2023, NASCAR team Spire Motorsports announced they are going to be the primary sponsor for the Jessie Rees Foundation for the year. Spire Motorsports driver Corey LaJoie, as part of TeamNEGU, hopes the partnership will raise awareness and help children battling cancer to “Never Ever Give Up.”
Partnering with NEGU is not something Corey takes lightly. Every time he meets a cancer patient and their family, he thinks of his own two sons. He thinks of himself as privileged to be a part of an organization that spreads joy.
“A lot of times, there’s not a lot of hope, and there’s not a lot of joy, just because those kids aren’t feeling great, so to leave a little bit of joy behind when you leave a place is just pretty cool,” Corey explained.
The cherry on top of this partnership is Corey’s last name (which is pronounced “la-JOY”).
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my last name is Lajoie, and NEGU gives out JoyJars, that’s a little God wink,” the driver added.
Someday, we hope there is a cure for all cancers, especially childhood cancers. Until then, it’s wonderful to see an organization devoting their time and resources to bringing just a little bit of joy into patients’ lives. Jessie’s legacy is alive and well in every child’s smile.
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