Jessie Rees was a little girl who lost her life to cancer and left behind a legacy.
This is her story as I originally wrote it in 2012 just shortly after the death of this courageous young girl.
Jessie created Joy Jars but she cannot tell us about them.
There will be no interview. There is no recent picture and there is no way for you to reach out to this particular teen, after the feature, should you have questions about Joy Jars.
This is because this month’s teen in the spotlight is, in fact, no longer alive. She died of brain cancer on January 5, 2012. She was only 12 years old.
Jessica, or Jessie as people called her, was born in 1999, on April 8, to a suburban California family. This family was immediately overwhelmed with the love that they had for this little girl, their third child.
Jessie was healthy and beautiful. As most children do, she brought more joy to their lives than they would have thought possible. Especially considering that much of this joy was experienced at a time of their lives that was so deeply filled with sorrow.
Jessie’s childhood was filled with school, family, friends and her time at Saddleback Church where her dad is a pastor.
As an avid swimmer, Jessie had a great attitude and enjoyed quoting the bible.
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me”. Philippians 4:13
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9.
By all accounts, Jessie lived an ideal life but sadly that was all about to change.
In February of 2011, Jessie started to complain of headaches and she then developed a lazy eye.
An MRI was immediately ordered. Two brain tumors were found.
Regrettably, Jessie had only a 1% chance of living 18 months.
After the initial shock of her prognosis, Jessie wanted to know how she can help others.
She asked, “What can we do for them?”
From this question, from a girl who was always thinking of other people even during her darkest hours, a beautiful concept was born. This would be her legacy. The legacy of Joy…the legacy of Joy Jars.
Joy Jars are small gifts that are filled with toys, activities, and love. They started as brown paper bags that Jessie would fill with things that she thought kids in the hospital would enjoy. Eventually, other people came to help and the number of people whose lives Joy Jars touched grew. With this Jessie’s excitement over the project grew.
Over time though Jessie became weak, she felt lost and lonely.
Her face had begun to bloat and she had to wear a face mask. She then decided to turn to Facebook in order to feel more connected. As a consequence, her followers grew from one person to hundreds of people to thousands of people.
Jessie found joy in sharing her thoughts, family occurrences, and love and support for her followers. She was a light in what was a bleak time for many and, in fact, did this while going through her very own bleak time. Her dad, Erik, carried her up the stairs to rest. He would then pray that the next day would be better.
Jessica had a headache on January 4, 2012. Her mom, Stacey, checked on her in the early morning. Jessie would not wake up.
At 11:10 am on January 5, 2012, the 12-year-old was gone.
Her deeply religious parents call it earning her “angel wings.” She leaves behind not only her parents, but also an older sister, Shaya, and an older brother, JT.
To say that a town mourned is an understatement.
Jessica Joy Rees hometown was in shock over the death of this young lady. The elementary school that she attended prepared for mourning children, teachers, and staff. The streets filled with homemade signs wishing Jessica well. There were many promises to keep her Joy Jar legacy alive.
I know this because I was there. Jessie and her older siblings, in fact, went to school with my kids. I met her parents when Shaya and my son were in Kindergarten together. I cannot fathom their pain.
Her memorial service was attended by thousands of people. Thousands more watched online.
Today many people work diligently at the Jessie Rees Foundation. They carry Jessie’s message of hope to Never Ever Give Up (NEGU).
This year the Jessie Rees Foundation is sponsoring a walk supporting Courageous Kids fighting cancer!
Gather your friends and walk in your neighborhood to help spread more JOY this holiday season!
Questions about registration, fundraising or starting a Santa Stroll in your neighborhood? Please email [email protected]