Giving Back

JennaJackPack Project Spreads to Yorktown

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

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 Like

Sign Up for E-News

Yorktown

Role of Function and Value in Wetland Protection

August 15, 2017

At the April 18 public hearing on a new wetland law, Yorktown Supervisor Michael Grace said he thought wetland function and/or value (he incorrectly used the two terms interchangeably) should be part of the definition of a protected wetland, making statements to the effect that, “It’s not just size; function should somehow be involved.”  He seemed willing to keep the ...

Cuomo's Real Fiscal Record

Since Gov. Cuomo has been in charge, 194,000 people have moved out of the 50 counties north of us. Even though we are being told that unemployment upstate has dropped, it is NOT because more people are finding work; it is because they have stopped looking for work, according to studies. So, as on the national level, they are not counted. The governor has touted that the real truth is unemployment ...

Searching for Justice in the Dark

This coming March marks the 43rd anniversary of my admittance to the bar in the State of New York. Forty-one of those years have been served as a Legal Aid Society criminal defense attorney in the Bronx. During that stretch, I have seen hundreds of colleagues, district attorneys, judges and court personnel come and go, with only a handful of those who started with me remaining.

One of my ...

Who Are the Real Robots?

What is the meaning of life?

Search me, but where cosmic queries are concerned, here’s a new one: If humans are becoming as easily manipulated by digital impulses as are robots, is that a form of evolution or devolution?

We marvel at the onset of artificial intelligence (AI) as if it’s right around the corner. It’s not. It’s here, painting each of us into a corner of ...

Sleeping with the Enemy

Whenever my husband goes out of town, I cheat. I figure, what he doesn’t know, won’t hurt him, and since there’s no way for him to find out that I cheated, why not have some fun while he’s out of town?

Do I feel guilty about this? Maybe a bit. But only because I know that my indiscretions may eventually catch up with me in the end. You see, I don’t just have one ...

Getting Kids to Take Responsibility for Their Own Behavior

Dear Dr. Linda,

We have a son entering ninth grade and we’re truly concerned. He’s a nice kid but doesn’t get the best grades. It’s not because he can’t do the work. We actually don’t know what it is. But when we talk to him about it, he always—and we mean always—blames someone else for the low grades.

It began around fifth grade so, at first, ...

Debate Is Healthy, but be Accurate

August 15, 2017

We are now in the beginning of the local political process. In any healthy representative democracy, there are differing opinions as to the local issues of the day. Discussions of these issues either in the print media or orally is also healthy. However, the comments made should be accurate and knowledgeable.

A member of a former board should not criticize the failure to pave when that board ...

Upcoming Events

Sat, August 19, 9:00 AM

Jefferson Valley Mall, Yorktown Heights

Yorktown Farmers Market

Arts & Entertainment Food & Drink Giving Back Green Health & Wellness

Mon, August 21, 7:00 PM

NewYork-Presbyterian/Hudson Valley Hospital, Cortlandt Manor

Breast Cancer Support Group

Health & Wellness

Fri, August 25, 12:30 PM

Support Connection Office, Yorktown Heights

Advanced Stage Women’s Cancers Support Group

Health & Wellness

Yorktown Elks to Sponsor Blood Drive

August 5, 2017

The Yorktown Elks Lodge No. 2324 will host a blood drive for the New York Blood Center from 4 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 25, at 590 Waverly Road in Yorktown Heights. There is currently a blood shortage.

Though walk-ins will be accepted, making an appointment helps the New York Blood Center plan for staffing needs. Appointments can be made ...