In March of 2011, eleven-year-old Jessie Joy Rees was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor which not only changed her life, but has since impacted the lives of over 30,000 children battling pediatric cancer. While undergoing exhausting rounds of radiation and treatment, Jesse was determined to "Never Ever Give Up" and to encourage others facing similar challenges to do the same. Rather than allowing the cancer to take over her life, Jessie opted to do more to create hope and bring joy to thousands of youth around the world. Armed with creative items and filled with love, Jessie's Joy Jars originated in Southern California and, from there, made their way to children's hospitals around the country, spreading the Jessie Rees Foundation's mission to "Never Ever Give Up."
"The Jesse Rees Foundation is about building relationships and doing all we can to express love for these kids who are dealing with the unthinkable," shared National Spokesperson and four-time Olympian Kaitlin Sandeno, "We will care until there is a cure."
In December, five recipients of Jessie's Joy Jars visited the San Francisco 49ers, representing "Never Ever Give Up" (NEGU) to its fullest. Joined by their parents, the Jessie Rees Foundation's Special Connections Coordinator Cheryl Ingraham, and Sandeno, the group kicked off their visit with a viewing of the five Lombardi Trophies before taking a behind-the-scenes tour of 49ers Headquarters. Much to their surprise, the youth made a stop at the Christmas Tree in the lobby to find gift bags awaiting them, filled with items that brought smiles to all.
After capturing photos with Gold Rush Cheerleaders, posing by jerseys framed in the 49ers Hall of Fame, and taking in images of some of the 49ers greatest game day moments throughout the halls, parents, patients, and the representatives of NEGU took to the sidelines of the 49ers practice field. A day outside surrounded by football instantly provided an escape from yesterday's treatment. Gavin Jack, now a senior in high school, embraced the scene of sweat, drills, and adrenaline— an environment he once enjoyed as an athlete before passing out on the football field and receiving a heart transplant in October. Days spent in the hospital and physical therapy became tolerable when Gavin opted to turn his attention towards 49ers facts and history rather than needles and medication. Twelve-year-old Lyndsey Dworkin, who had just undergone her final round of treatment, no longer felt the energy-draining side effects of her treatment and, accompanied her father, watched the practice with uplifted spirits.
"The children's smiles are what NEGU is all about and we are motivated by the benefits of those smiles, well beyond the event," said Ingraham, "After these experiences, we learn how much this day has meant to each individual and how it helps them get through their treatment and allow them to feel like a normal kid again."
The practice whistle blew and the five faces of NEGU's mission lined the path known as "Forty Niners Way" where players engaged in conversation, autographs and photos. It was apparent that the towering athletes who are recognized as heroes day-after-day were inspired by the youth. The children beamed with energy and excitement, and in turn, the 49ers grasped the moment, the stories, and the positive spirits which are sure to fuel their play and serve as further inspiration.
To learn more about NEGU and the Jessie Reese Foundation, please visit: http://www.negu.org/