Jessica (Jessie) Joy Rees is known to thousands as a leader and a spokesperson for childhood cancer awareness and her story has inspired thousands to join together to support children fighting cancer around the world. More importantly, Jessie is a hero to the estimated 500,000 children and their families affected cancer all over the world. In March 2011, Jessie was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), which is a brain tumor within and around the brain stem, making it inoperable. During her 10 month fight with childhood cancer, a time when most people would be looking inward, 12 year old Jessie chose to focus her time and energy helping other kids—courageous children, who felt lonely and limited due to their own fight with cancer–kids who she thought could use a little happiness and Joy.
She was only three weeks into her own difficult treatment, when she asked a question that would forever change the lives of thousands of kids, “How can we help them?”—referring to the other children in treatment at Children’s Hospital Orange County. That same night, while her parents, Erik and Stacey Rees talked privately, she began to create the beginnings of her JoyJars. JoyJars—named after Jessie’s middle name Joy, are plastic jars filled with age appropriate, hospital approved toys, games, and activities, along with a special note and bracelet—with her personal motto and inspirational message to NEGU, Never Ever Give Up.
Jessie and her family received tragic news in September 2011 that there was a second inoperable tumor. Jessie had only a 1% chance of beating this horrific disease. But this did not stop Jessie from continuing to fulfill her dream of encouraging children fighting cancer to Never Ever Give Up. She and her family personally stuffed and delivered over 3,000 JoyJars to kids in children’s hospitals.
Jessie earned her wings on January 5th, 2012. With more than 9,000 people attending her celebration service and countless more watching online, Jessie’s family knew they must continue her dream. In fact, Jessie’s NEGU spirit is as alive and well, as the Jessie Rees Foundation continues to spread love, hope and joy with JoyJars being sent to all 50 states and 12 other countries, reaching nearly 50,000 kids in over 200 hospitals, 175 Ronald McDonald Houses and over 5,000 individual homes. All of this is 95% volunteer based, privately funded and is at no cost to the recipients or hospitals. Jessie, in 10 short months, has made a major impact on childhood cancer awareness and will continue to do for years to come. She has rallied a community filled with passion and a following filled with purpose–to give selflessly and Never Ever Give Up!
2012 was an amazing year for Jessie’s foundation. Jessie was recently awarded the 2012 CNN Young Wonders Award, given to few select children who have stepped up to change the world. The Jessie Rees Foundation was also awarded the Jimmie Johnson Helmet of Hope Award. Many high profile professional athletes and celebrities join us in delivering JoyJars to kids in hospitals, through the Special Connections Program created by the Jessie Rees Foundation. Schools, clubs and groups all over the country have conducted Joy Drives to collect toys for JoyJars.
Also in 2012, Jessie was awarded the Lady Diana Award, an award that was created by the UK Government in honor of Princess Diana. Princess Diana truly believed that young people had the power to change the world and she wanted to help encourage them so that they would have that chance. This award was created in hopes that it would encourage some special young people to create a better society around the world.
Jessie showed us that children fighting cancer need to feel supported and encouraged. She helped us see that even in the face of devastating news, small acts of kindness and joy can go a long way to help brighten the day for children fighting cancer. Jessie showed us the importance of joining together as a community, a country and a world to fight childhood cancer and to Never Ever Give Up for the kids.