Children Hospital Loss Of Loved One

Jessie’s JoyJars

Our daughter, Jessica Joy Rees, was 11 when doctors discovered she had an inoperable and incurable brain tumor. They told us we would have 12-18 months with her. We were all devastated.

We entered her into a very difficult clinical trial where she was subjected to 30 rounds of radiation and a daily dose of chemotherapy. Despite this grueling regimen, Jessie maintained an incredibly positive attitude.

After her treatment one day, we were driving away from Children’s Hospital Orange County and she asked about all the sick children in the hospital that didn’t get to go home each day like she did. And then she asked something that would change our lives forever: “How can we help them?”

My wife and I didn’t really give her a good answer to her question since we were so focused on helping her through this battle. But later that day, we found Jessie in the kitchen with five paper bags. She was decorating them with stickers and positive messages, and filling them with toys, colored markers and her beanie babies. She asked if she could give them out to kids like her who were going through cancer treatments, but were unable to leave the hospital. During our next visit, I talked with members of her care team and they gave her the approval, as long as the items were new, age appropriate, and were not sharp or edible. They also asked that we replace the paper bags with something else. Over the weekend, Jessie asked about using a “jar” to put her toys in. We loved the idea and so did the hospital.

We then took Jessie’s middle name “Joy” and added it to “jars”, which started Jessie’s JoyJars. Jessie started making them in our garage and delivering them to other kids at the hospital.  After seeing the looks on their faces, Jessie knew she had to make more.

Despite her epic struggle, Jessie focused on bringing joy and hope to other children suffering from cancer. She immersed herself into making them. Word quickly spread to other hospitals, and she compiled and distributed over 3,000 JoyJars during the next 10 months. During this time, we decided as a family to create a non-profit to raise a little funding to help Jessie keep her JoyJars going. We asked Jessie if she wanted her foundation to be about “cure” or “care” and she said, care!

Unfortuantely, on January 5, 2012, our precious daughter entered into the arms of Jesus. Losing her was incredibly painful and rocked our family to its core.

The death of a child can either bring your family closer together or tear it apart. A week or so after Jessie had passed, we were gathered as a family of four at the dinner table. My wife and I were apologizing to our two children about how we had poured almost all of our efforts into Jessie’s survival during the previous 10 months. We told them we wanted to make their childhood as normal as possible from this point forward. We asked them the question: what should we do now? And our kids said that Jessie’s motto was NEGU, Never Ever Give Up, so how can we?

So our family committed to keep her legacy alive and continue making these wonderful jars. We went all in.

Jessie’s JoyJars are now stuffed to the brim with new, age-appropriate, hospital-approved toys, games and activities for courageous kids battling cancer, aged 0 to 18 years. We offer 12 different kinds of jars. We have six different age ranges–since you can’t give the same activities and toys to a 10-year-old as a 2-year-old–and different jars for boys and girls.

The demand for our JoyJars grew beyond our wildest expectations. Unfortunately, the number of children with cancer continues to rise. We began giving people and corporations the opportunity to help us fill these jars. So we offer a way to donate as well as a way to shop via our Amazon Wishlist to ensure that only the best toys are shipped out to these brave fighters. We also ship toys to the patient’s siblings.

We have now made and distributed 430,000 JoyJars to all 50 states and to 53 different countries. These jars have spread a lot of joy, love and hope. It’s a way to ensure that kids fighting cancer (and their families) receive the needed support and encouragement to Never Ever Give Up (NEGU) now or in the future.

We partner with 260 Children’s Hospitals, 175 Ronald McDonald Houses and numerous oncology centers to help distribute the JoyJars. And we work with churches to give them out in foreign countries.

We also formed ClubNEGU. This is a free program for kids that are actively fighting cancer, their siblings, and their courageous parents for eighteen months. Each registered ClubNEGU family receives a fun boost of joy each month. These gifts are delivered for the sole purpose of wanting them to feel encouraged, bring them smiles, create priceless memories and help them know they are not alone in this journey.

Since we are a public charity and distribute jars to kids of all faiths, we do not bill ourselves as a Christian company. But I tell people we are faith-laced rather than faith-based. We use these jars as a way to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

Jessie went to heaven on a Thursday. So I wrote a letter to her every Thursday morning for the next nine years. In the beginning, it was a grieving tool for me, a way for a hurting dad to still communicate with his daughter. My emotions were raw and I published them on a blog, thinking my vulnerability might, in some small way, help others who had lost a child with their own pain to not feel “alone”, to find a glimmer of hope. I still occasionally write to her on my blog.

Jessie truly fulfilled The Great Commission. She loved the Lord and loved others. She believed every child fighting cancer deserved joy, the opportunity to smile, and to be encouraged to Never Ever Give Up. Now we’re trying to make her proud of us by continuing something amazing that she started.

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  • Reply
    July 13, 2023 at 4:04 pm

    What a beautiful spirit your daughter had. I love that you have continued sharing Joy Jars with others.

  • Reply
    karen wood
    July 14, 2023 at 1:06 pm

    As an adult cancer survivor I can really see the “joy” these jars must have given to so many children. What an inspirational feat your daughter accomplished and that you have carried on. Being Jesus centered helps so many Christians face cancer in a different way, keeping their eyes on Jesus and not the cancer! God bless you all and God bless every child that receives your jar!

  • Reply
    Gay Dahl
    May 6, 2024 at 11:01 am

    Some people enter this world to BE love and a bright light to all they meet and others live years longer but never know the true gift of life which is to love so well! Your daughter was a joy bringer and ignited the world on fire by her love! Well done Jessie!

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