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UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center

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More than just a jar

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Titus and Jedidiah Chang © UC Regents 

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JoyJars inspire others to "Never Give Up"


Eleven-year-old Jessica Joy Rees was diagnosed with two inoperable brain tumors in March 2011. During her treatment, the Orange County youngster did not lose faith or hope. Instead, she kept a strong, fighting spirit that inspired her to launch the Jessie Rees Foundation: Never Ever Give Up (NEGU). The foundation created “JoyJars” filled with goodies for kids fighting cancer in America.

“NEGU is never ever give up,” said Rees in a television interview about her cause just prior to her death in January 2012. “I just want to make them feel happier because I know that they're going through a lot, too.”

Beginning with the opening of the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center expansion in September, newly diagnosed cancer patients will receive a JoyJar during their first treatment visit, thanks to the generosity of the Jessie Rees Foundation.

Depending on a recipient’s gender and age group, JoyJars are packed with items including, for example, pacifiers, Beanie Babies, crayons, bubbles, Play-Doh, little rubber ducks, earphones, socks, puzzles, bandanas or inflatable balls. In 2011, Rees stuffed and sent more than 3,000 JoyJars to kids throughout the United States. Since May 2012, more than 15,000 children received JoyJars. 

Jessica Joy Rees © Jessie Rees Foundation

“Jessie and I would make JoyJars in the Joy Factory, aka our garage,” said Rees’s father, Erik Rees, in the same TV interview. “It’s a jar stuffed with joy.”

Rees’s motto, “never ever give up” echoed across the world. According to the organization’s website, JoyJars have been delivered to more than 150 children’s hospitals, 175 Ronald MacDonald Houses, and more 5,000 houses in all 50 states. Rees’s JoyJars have also reached children in Africa, Canada, Germany, London, India, Mexico, Puerto Rico and New Zealand.

Rees handed out more than just jars, delivering messages of hope. Rees lost her 10-month battle with cancer on Jan. 5, 2012, but her father kept her dream alive.

“She knew having cancer made you feel lonely and limited and labeled, but she also knew love can make pain, fear, confusion and worry fade away for a brief moment,” Rees’ father was quoted as saying. “So she stuffed love in a jar so passionately. She knew that a cheerful heart was good medicine.”

Nancy Lewis, a pediatric infusion nurse at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, intends to have enough jars on hand for every new pediatric patient. She said she hopes that when the kids open up a JoyJars, they will be reminded to always stay positive and NEGU.