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

I Do Not Make Stuff Up!

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote in my column, “Watergate analogies apply to Obama, not Trump,” that President Obama’s Justice Department planted a spy in the Trump campaign. I said I used the term “spy” because this was a counter-intelligence operation, not a criminal investigation, where the term informant would have been proper.

That statement has been brought ...

Interview with Senate Candidate, Robert Kesten

The seat in the 40th Senate District of New York, currently occupied by Republican Sen. Terrence Murphy, is up this year. Senator Murphy, who has announced he is seeking re-election, has already started campaigning. On the Democratic side, newcomer Robert Kesten entered the race. Challenging him for the Democratic nomination is former county Legislator Peter Harckham. Kesten and Harckham will ...

What Kind of Sports Parent Are You?

Social media recently showered a lot of likes and love on a high school pitcher in Minnesota whose team was playing in a regional final that would send the winning team to the state championship game.

After the last batter of the game struck out, the pitcher did something unheard of. Rather than spontaneously join his teammates in an on-field celebration, as is customary, the pitcher ...

Packing Heat

“Are you leaving me?” asked my husband one night as he surveyed the contents of my closet on our bed.

“What? No!” I said. “Why would you think that?”

“Every single article of clothing you own is laid out on our bed,” he replied. “So I have to assume you are either leaving me or you have joined the armed services and if that’s the ...

What More Can Murphy Do?

June 21, 2018

In his letter “Murphy should address gun laws” (June 14), Bernard Lipsy praises Sen. Terrence Murphy and then condemns him for not keeping guns away from people that shouldn’t have them. I was wondering just what new laws he would propose? How many more laws are needed? How about enforcing the numerous laws already on the books, which, by the way, isn’t being done?

What ...

Upcoming Events

Thu, June 28, 12:30 PM

Frankie and Augie'Z, Jefferson Valley

IBM Retirees Club

Community Calendar

Carousel_image_c241423344b91d0c9f91_782289e382fb71551284_bocce_open_play_6-19-18

Thu, June 28, 1:00 PM

Yorktown Heights

Bocce Open Play

Sports

Carousel_image_d8db455959098f493a0e_andrew_art_flyer_small

Thu, June 28, 5:00 PM

Yorktown Heights

"Awake" Art Show

Arts & Entertainment

Yorktown Youth Soccer Club Results

June 15, 2018

Sunday, June 10  - The Yorktown Crew clinched the Westchester Youth Soccer League JV-1 Division with a 4-3 win over Rivertown FC on Sunday. The team has been on a remarkable run for the past 2 seasons with a team record of 16-1-1. Sunday’s matchup vs Rivertown had a championship like atmosphere as Rivertown trailed Yorktown by 1 point in the standings. The Crew worked hard all week in ...