Jennifer Mynear knew her son Jarrett was special from a young age. Though she had always known he was smart, she first saw his rare fearlessness at age 2. After he was diagnosed with an aggressive bone cancer at age 2, she and her husband Doug took him to an orthopedic surgeon to discuss amputating his lower right leg.
“The surgeon was completely focused on us; they’re not used to speaking to a 2-year-old,” she said, laughing. “But Jarrett said, ‘Hey, you need to be talking to me! I’m the one whose leg is getting cut off!”
His empathy became a defining factor, too. Though he was diagnosed with cancer six times and lost his battle in 2002 at age 13, Jennifer said he was always focused on helping others.
At age 9, Jarrett first had the idea for Jarrett’s Joy Cart: after a bone marrow transplant, he was confined to his room in the Markey Cancer Center for 38 days with nothing to do but think. He remembered a group of women who would go from room to room at the Mayo Clinic giving toys to children from a cart and wanted to do the same thing for patients at the Kentucky Children’s Hospital (KCH).
Jennifer had no background in non-profit work, but Jarrett was undaunted. When he went to speak to the board of directors at Kentucky Children’s Hospital, Jennifer was not allowed in the room. “I’ve got this,” he told his mother.
Jarrett cut the ribbon for Jarrett’s Joy Cart on March 23, 1999, as his proud parents looked on. And though it started as one cart being pulled from room to room at KCH, Jennifer is glad to say that she’s expanded the program far beyond Jarrett’s original vision.
For example, they provide toys, crafts, games and books to children in the outpatient pediatric hematology oncology clinic. The children are often there for eight hours at a time receiving chemotherapy, so Joy Cart items are a welcome distraction.
Jennifer has also created the HEEP Program — Health Education and Empowerment Through Play. “We’re working with KCH to provide age-appropriate educational materials for the children,” she said. “The oncology kids get a stuffed duck called the Chemo Duck. They come with a catheter and a portacath so they can be taught how they’re going to receive their meds.”
Jarrett’s Joy Cart has also purchased treasure box items for all the specialty clinics so the kids have an incentive when they have to get a shot. During the holiday season, they sponsor a free “store” so children can buy presents for their parents and siblings. Beyond that, Jarrett’s Joy Cart raised over $800,000 to expand and completely redo the cramped and outdated pediatric oncology clinic at KCH.
“It’s not just about the toys,” said Jennifer. “One time a woman told Jarrett he should be called ‘The Boy Who Gives Out Toys’ and he said, ‘No ma’am, I’m the boy who gives out hope. What I do is a way to make a connection. The toy is not the goal — the toy is the way I make a connection with these patients to let them know they’re cared about.’ And to this day, almost 18 years later, that’s our message.”
How to get more involved with Jarrett’s Joy Cart
If you want to help Jarrett’s Joy Cart you have several options:
· You can volunteer to do a wide range of jobs in the organization, such as sorting donations, doing paperwork, or pulling the toy cart in the hospital.
· Volunteer to help out with DanceBlue, a 24-hour dance marathon for University of Kentucky students to raise money to help fight childhood cancer.
· Donate toys for children ages 0-18. Toys must be new and in the package.
· Spread the word about the “Soaring to New Altitudes” fundraising event to be held on May 20th at the Aviation Museum of Kentucky. More details will be available soon on the website and Facebook.
· Like Jarrett’s Joy Cart on Facebook and keep an eye out for special asks.