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Hillel Journalism Student Brings Joy to Children

by Hillel News | Jul 29, 2003 |
By Katie Humphrey

Jessica Abo is helping to make Jarrett Mynear's dream come true.

And she's never met him.

Last spring, Abo's Teaching Television internship sent her to CBS affiliate WDKY-TV in Lexington, Ky. There she met anchor Marvin Bartlett, who had written a book called "Jarrett's Joy Cart." The book detailed the life of Mynear, 13, who was stricken with cancer at age 2 and had a passion for giving toys to sick children by wheeling a cart full of them around the University of Kentucky Hospital.

"He knew the hospital could be scary and lonely," Abo said. "He wanted other kids to know someone was thinking about them."

It was Mynear's dream to have a Joy Cart in all 50 states. After reading the book, Abo immediately wanted to help him reach his goal.

She began by emailing Mynear and his family last summer, asking what she could do to organize a Northwestern Joy Cart. "He never let anything get in his way. He never doubted his project," Abo said. "There was nothing that little guy didn't do."

When Mynear died in October 2002, Abo drove to Kentucky for his funeral, where she met his family for the first time. The next weekend, she ran the Chicago Marathon in his memory.

With the help of Weinberg freshman Alex Zousmer and the Jewish student group Tzedek Hillel, Abo began organizing an NU Joy Cart. The most challenging part of the project, Abo said, was getting a hospital to commit to a Joy Cart. But that didn't deter her.

"I don't hear it when people tell me no," she said. "I don't know what it means to sit still."

Eventually, she got Evanston Northwestern Hospital to accept the project. After being connected with a toy manufacturer who donated hundreds of toys, Jarrett's NU Joy Cart was launched in April as one of five around the country.

It wasn't the first time Abo coordinated a volunteer project. As senior class president at her Bethlehem, Pa., high school, she directed a class-wide fundraiser for the Thompson family of Washington, D.C., the first black family to have sextuplets. Her class raised $3,000 in money and gifts, then traveled to Washington to deliver the donation. Abo even managed to persuade media outlets such as CNN and FOX to cover the event.

After graduating this spring, Abo began Medill's graduate program in broadcast and continues working with her family to launch Jarrett's Joy Carts around the country. Her parents are working on starting the project in Pennsylvania; and her sister, a pediatrics resident at Yale University wants to start one in New Haven, Conn, as well.

Abo said her classes at Medill helped her immensely when it was time to launch the NU Joy Cart. "After four years of journalism school I knew how to pitch a story and write press releases," she said.

Abo hopes to continue pitching stories that draw attention to philanthropic events as a journalist. "Starting out in broadcast journalism, I will be in a lot of small markets where I will be able to launch more Joy Carts," she said.

During one weekend in April, Abo, armed with pictures of Jarrett's NU Joy Cart, went to Kentucky to spend time with Jarrett's family. Before Abo returned to Evanston, Jarrett's mother took her to the cemetery.

"It was wonderful to be able to visit him like that," Abo said, "especially with his mom next to me.

"If you truly believe in what you're doing, it takes time and convincing a lot of people to listen to you, but it makes it all worth it in the end when you help people."

Reprinted with permission from Medill News
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