Giving Back

JennaJackPack Project Spreads to Yorktown

b1a920449c4e7b6a07f7_c856999d8c59a64bf5bf_51693.JPG
Jewell Richardson, Arianna Mata, Julia DiBenedetto, Pamela Giannopoulos; Kim Bourgeois, Meghan Cegielski, Ellen O’Callaghan and Valeria Manent Credits: Barbara Nackman
fafc85c96bc866af8e11_51692.JPG
Yorktown students collect items for gift backpacks to comfort children experiencing loss. Credits: Barbara Nackman
b1a920449c4e7b6a07f7_c856999d8c59a64bf5bf_51693.JPG

YORKTOWN, N.Y. – In 2014, the Mahopac and Yorktown communities were stunned by the sudden loss of 14-year-old Jenna Nolan, who died swimming in Lake Mahopac. While such a tragedy is difficult for most adults to make sense of, the children in Jenna’s life were also shocked.

Jenna’s mother, Cathy Nolan, was not only struck by the death of her daughter, but the pain of seeing her son, John, who was just 10 years old at the time, struggle with the loss.

“Everybody kind of rallies around the parents, but really the kids are at the most tragic loss because they kind of get lost in the shuffle,” Nolan said.

Sign Up for E-News

At a loss for what to do or say, two classmates who knew Jenna and John filled a backpack with John’s favorite snacks and brought it to him. The small show of support “made all the difference in the world,” Nolan said.

“It changed his life in that moment,” she added.

Three years later, Jenna’s absence still doesn’t make sense; however; the young people whose lives were touched continue to create something meaningful in Jenna’s name, and it started with a backpack.

Under the guidance of Nolan and Lana Bernardi, a parent of one of the boys who made the first pack, the JennaJackPack Project (JJPP) was born.

Founded in memory of Jenna and Jack, a 14-year-old boy from Bedford who died from a brain tumor in 2012, the project gives children the opportunity to collect and gift small tokens of support to a child who needs it. The core elements of each pack include a courage stone, a pillow or blanket, a journal, a pen and candy. In the last year, Nolan said, the project has donated 22 packs. Each pack is a little different depending on the age, favorite color and snack preferences of the child, and includes some extras such as crayons and coloring books and other small items.

Nolan said the hope is that the familiar and fun treats provide children grades K-8 with some semblance of comfort during a time when their world is flipped upside down. Additionally, children are encouraged to support and care for others.

“The kids just feel like they need to do something,” Nolan said. “So we thought, ‘What better way to let kids show their concern and empathy for someone during that time?’”

Participating schools let children come up with creative expressions of the project. Mahopac Middle School incorporated the project into other kindness initiatives. Schools in Carmel and Westchester have also participated. Recently, Yorktown students got involved as well.

Jenna’s former soccer team, the Yorktown Fusion, brings girls from several area schools together to play together under the auspices of the Yorktown Youth Soccer Club. The Yorktown High School students on the team partnered with Mildred E. Strang Middle School students for a special addition to the project.

“They are an amazing group of girls, who still play tournament games in honor of Jenna, in which they all wear her number, 10,” Nolan said.

Yorktown High School senior Kimberly Bourgeois said that when Jenna joined the team, she instantly “clicked” with the rest of the girls. She added that she’s never belonged to a team where the members were so close, even though they all attend different schools.

“We’ve always been really good friends with Jenna and when we heard the news that she passed it was absolutely horrifying,” Bourgeois said.

Now, by wearing her number and participating in the JJPP, Bourgeois said, they still feel close to Jenna.

“To be able to help out with this really means a lot to all of us, especially since a lot of us are going off to college next year,” she said.

The team set up a booth at the middle school for a week in May, where middle school students wrote messages such as “stay strong,” and “keep your head up.” The high school students then printed the messages on buttons to be attached to the backpacks that will eventually be distributed through JJPP.

By the end of the week, they made 50 buttons, Nolan said. The middle school students also collected items for the backpacks, which are valued collectively at $229 dollars and the faculty and staff of the middle school raised $220 in funds, which they donated to JJPP.

“I think it’s really important to have the younger people help out,” Bourgeois said. “Their slogan is ‘kids caring for kids;’ It helps to know that people your age will look out for you.”

For more information, visit jennajackpack.org.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Yorktown

Catching up with Westchester County Executive George Latimer

George Latimer, our new county executive, has been in office now for a little over half a year. I thought it might be a good time to check in with my friend to see how things were going. You can see the interview in its entirety on Channel 74 (Optimum) at 9 p.m. Wednesday nights.

What happened last November?

The election last November brought change throughout Westchester County. In my ...

You’ll Get a Kick out of Musical Classic ‘Anything Goes’

I’ve loved Broadway musicals since I was smaller than a piano bench. That’s one reason I enjoy writing about local productions in this space. The more people who go to musicals, the happier it makes me.

I didn’t realize how old-fashioned about musicals I could be, though, until my wife Elyse and I at long last saw “Wicked.” It only took us 15 years to get there.

Loose Ends

July 20, 2018

Real life is not the movies.

Things are not wrapped up in a neat bow, motivations are not explained, and things often don’t make sense.

Two weeks ago, a man driving “triple digits” in a Dodge Charger exited the Taconic State Parkway at Underhill Avenue, blew through a stop sign, and t-boned an SUV, injuring a mother and her 19-year-old daughter. Here is ...

The Adventures of Superdog

I was always very impressed that my dog could bark on command and come when I called his name, until I read in the newspaper about a dog that saved his owner’s life by calling 9-1-1. Apparently, when his owner had a seizure, the dog pushed a speed-dial button for 9-1-1, barked into the receiver for help, and then opened the door when the responders arrived.

Honestly, though, it’s ...

If You See Something, Say Something

July 11, 2018

I am writing this letter because I see something different with the new Yorktown Town Board. I see an open government instead of a dictatorship with rubber stamps. I see the new Town Board working together for the best interests of the residents in Yorktown.

The auditor suggests in his report to not start a capital project without having the money first. A bad example is the Granite Knolls ...

Upcoming Events

Wed, July 25, 7:30 PM

Carmel Cinema 8, Carmel

Film Screening on Suicide

Health & Wellness

Carousel_image_33eaa2f6bb221068af63_782289e382fb71551284_bocce_open_play_6-19-18

Thu, July 26, 7:00 PM

Yorktown Heights

Bocce Open Play

Sports

Carousel_image_7b0fa143b2d15f3de94e_repaircafehv-logo-final

Sat, July 28, 10:00 AM

Grace Lutheran Church Fellowship hall, Yorktown Heights

Repair Cafe

Education Giving Back Green

Three from Houlihan Lawrence Named ‘America’s Best Real Estate Agents’

July 20, 2018

John Kincart, Douglas Dill and Annette Cicinelli have been named among America’s most productive sales associates as a part of REAL Trends America’s Best Real Estate Agents, the newly issued ranking report produced by REAL Trends and sponsored by Zillow Group. They are now members of the “America’s Best Real Estate Agents.”

REAL Trends America’s Best Real ...