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Jessie’s Wish

Jessie’s Wish

A brave 12-year old girl teaches children to never ever give up.

In March 2011, Jessie Joy Rees and her family received a devastating diagnosis—she had brain cancer and the prognosis was not good. But the Rancho Santa Margarita girl, who lost her battle less than a year later at the age of 12, decided to commit the time she had left to bringing joy to others. 

“When Jessie was diagnosed, we were given 12 to 18 months to care for her,” says Erik Rees, Jessie’s father. “Two weeks into her treatment we were driving home from the hospital and she asked when all the other children get to leave. I told her that kids have different treatments and that some have to stay for days, weeks or even years. She then asked the question that would change the course of our lives forever: ‘So how do we help them?’”

Rees asked Jessie if she wanted to focus on the care or cure of cancer patients and she said, “Care, daddy.” 

Jessie began assembling small bags of toys, games and activities to give her fellow cancer patients. When the hospital requested that the contents be transferred to 64-ounce plastic jars, JoyJars were created, borrowing from Jessie’s middle name and branding the organization under her mantra: NEGU, which stands for “never, ever give up.” 

Jessie herself filled more than 3,000 JoyJars. Those 3,000 jars have now become 70,000, distributed to more than 240 children’s hospitals and 175 Ronald McDonald houses in more than 18 countries. The foundation recently moved into a facility in Irvine to optimize production. 

“The demand grew quickly,” says Rees, now Chairman and CEO of the Jessie Rees Foundation. “At first we were funding them ourselves at about $20 each but we soon realized we would have to set up a foundation to keep up with the demand.”

“Though there have been strides treating leukemias, solid-mass tumors are increasing at a shocking rate,” says Rees. “For instance, there are 1,000 children in active treatment at CHOC Children’s alone and in Loma Linda, twice that number, and at L.A. Children’s Hospital, even more still.” 

“All Jessie wanted to do was provide a little happiness and distraction to what can be a long—and at times very lonely—treatment experience,” says Rees. 

Though Jessie lost her battle with childhood cancer, her life’s mission lives on.  As September—which is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month—draws to a close, JoyJars continue to be filled by countless volunteers.  Their work is a daily reminder of the thousands of children courageously battling cancer and in need of the care and comfort of all who are willing to help.  Jessie’s vision teaches us that when our community comes together, we can indeed bring joy to children waging an unimaginably hard fight.

Contact ConnectOC.org or negu.org to see how you or your organization can help. 


Shelley Hoss is president of the Orange County Community Foundation. She can be reached at shoss@oc-cf.org

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