We’ve heard it said and said it ourselves countless times: “Oh, if I could bottle up his/her energy-enthusiasm-ability, etc. and sell it, I’d be a millionaire.”
Braxton Gross is now one among thousands of young people around the world who have been the surprised recipients of the actual realization of this old cliché that appears in the form of “Joy Jars.” The jars arrive unexpectedly as gifts filled with an assortment of age-appropriate, fun-filled items and a warm and cheerful handmade beanie.
They aren’t ordered, aren’t prizes from a contest, have no cost and no strings-attached. Most of the recipients aren’t even aware that such jars exist. The well-stuffed "Joy Jars" are sent as gifts only to very special children: they are each fighting their own battle with cancer.
Braxton’s first Joy Jar arrived shortly after he had been diagnosed with LCH (Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis) and he began taking treatments for the cancer at St. Louis Children’s Hospital two years ago. Since then he has eagerly looked forward to the arrival of the packages which are sent four times a year and a special one for his birthday. The Gross family has learned that the gift jars are sent from the Jessie Rees Foundation, as part of a mission created in memory of their daughter and sister, the late Jessie Joy Rees.
Jessie was an out-going, athletic 12-year old girl who fought two brain tumors for 10 months before her death in January of 2012. During her own struggles and compassion for others, Jessie created the Joy Jar to support and encourage other children with cancer to “Never Ever Give Up.” Following her death, through the family’s loss and pain, came the beginnings of the foundation, which to date has sent over 123,000 Joy Jars worldwide to kids with cancer. Each jar has among its treasures, an individually created, handmade “Brave Beanie” sized to the appropriate age-group. The beanies are made for infants, toddlers, children and teens by hundreds of volunteers who knit and crochet the hats with threads of warm wool and love.
Braxton, who is now eight-years old and in the third grade at Jefferson Elementary in Farmington, still has his own Brave Beanie that he received in his first jar and displays it proudly. Braxton, became known at Children’s Hospital, locally and throughout the area for his own bravery and compassion for other young patients. While undergoing his own regime of painful treatments, he would reach out to other youngsters by encouraging them to be brave. In time the slogan “Be Brave For Braxton” became his own mantra for enduring and surviving.
He enjoys receiving his Joy Jar packages so much, that he decided he wanted to do something for the foundation that supports the program. He talked with his mother, Amanda Gross, then with his maternal grandmother LaVonna Herzog, who crochets as easily and rapidly as anyone else might shell peanuts. LaVonna agreed without hesitation to make the beanies to be sent to the foundation to go in the Joy Jars.
They set no particular number as a goal, Grandmother Herzog just started crocheting. She said she crochets about one beanie a day; carrying her yarn and crochet hook with her she works in her spare time, while waiting in a checkout line, at a long stoplight, sitting in a doctor’s office, or even while visiting with a friend.
“You can crochet just about anywhere and get a few rows done in a short time,” she said.
An energetic, cheerful, out-going woman, in one-year she created 375 beanies; enough to fill six large boxes that have now been shipped to the Jessie Reese Foundation. Eventually the large assortment of colorful and varied patterned beanies will be distributed in Joy Jars to children throughout the world.
“I just wanted to share the fun of receiving the boxes with others who have cancer,” said Braxton, who has had good, cancer-free checkups at his last several appointments at Children’s. “It’s fun to see what’s inside and to know that someone is thinking about you and wants you to get well.”
When asked what he would tell any child who has just been diagnosed with cancer, after a little thought he replied, “You can get though this. You just have to keep fighting.”
Braxton’s next appointment is in February of 2019. He and his family are hopeful and anticipating another good checkup. In the meantime, Braxton keeps a positive attitude and Grandmother Herzog keeps crocheting beanies.