“I need to be a part of this.”
When UK alumni Doug and Jennifer Mynear lost their 13-year-old son Jarrett to cancer in 2002, they knew Jarrett’s giving and generous spirit needed to be honored and celebrated. Diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma at age two, Jarrett was in treatment for cancer for most of his life. But his focus was always on helping others.
As a frequent patient at Kentucky Children’s Hospital, Jarrett saw firsthand how many kids came for extended stays and missed their siblings, friends, school, and their old lives. He created Jarrett’s Joy Cart as a way to cheer up pediatric patients with a gift from a cart stuffed with goodies. Before he passed away, he gave Jennifer and Doug a list of things he wanted them to do. His final wish, in addition to continuing Jarrett’s Joy Cart: Find an impactful way to help patients and families in the Pediatric Oncology Outpatient Clinic.
“The clinic was wonderful, but it was terribly small with no privacy,” said Jennifer. “Everyone was piled into one room—the kids who needed chemo, those who showed up needing a transfusion, kids with a fever that needed antibiotics. Jarrett wanted us to help in any way we could.”
In the wake of Jarett’s passing, Jennifer and Doug created the Jarrett Mynear Memorial Fund and requested donations in lieu of flowers. With the expertise of Susannah Denomme, a friend who worked on UK’s philanthropy team, the family raised more than $800,000, including a large contribution from Jarrett’s friend Rosie O’Donnell.
The funds were used to build a new state-of-the-art Pediatric Outpatient Clinic. “But after the clinic was finished, I told Susannah that I really felt like it couldn’t be over,” said Jennifer. “There was still more that needed to be done.”
Inspired by a campus organization at Penn State University called THON—the world’s largest student-run philanthropy, which raises funds for children impacted by cancer—Jennifer and Susannah decided UK needed a similar event. They quickly got the support from UK’s administration and spread the word on campus that anyone was welcome to join in a new student-run fundraising organization: DanceBlue.
“DanceBlue gives students a chance to be a part of something bigger than themselves, to make a huge difference and to find a new community,” said Jennifer. “Students were coming up to us at that first meeting saying, ‘I remember Jarrett from TV. I remember reading about him. This is what I’ve been looking for—I need to be a part of this.’”
UK students ran with DanceBlue, and knocked it out of the park. At the first DanceBlue no-sitting-no-sleeping 24-hour dance marathon in 2006, 170 dancers raised $123,000. Since then, the organization has raised more than $18.3 million for the Golden Matrix Fund, which benefits the patients and families served by the DanceBlue Kentucky Children’s Hospital Hematology/Oncology Clinic.
“The students’ success and commitment to DanceBlue have literally transformed the face of care for pediatric oncology patients at Kentucky Children’s Hospital,” said Jennifer. “The DanceBlue Clinic never turns away a patient, and they treat patients from 110 of the 120 counties in Kentucky.”
“Support from the DanceBlue community allows the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology service at Kentucky Children’s Hospital to offer far more comprehensive services than a program our size could normally provide,” said Dr. John D’Orazio, Chief of the Division of Hematology/Oncology at Kentucky Children’s Hospital. “Dedicated social workers, Child Life specialists, school interventionalists, a financial navigator, a nutritionist and clinical research staff—all supported by DanceBlue—mean that our patients have access to key psychosocial services needed to make their cancer journey less painful.”
The program continues to grow year after year. Nick Joseph, a senior at UK and the DanceBlue Overall Chair, grew up participating in mini-marathons in his hometown of Lexington, and is still amazed by the team’s commitment to growing the dance marathon. The student-run volunteer organization has 152 members, in addition to the 800 to 1000 dancers who commit to the annual 24-hour dance marathon.
“I’m blessed to be a small piece of this puzzle that raises between $1 million and $2 million a year and fully funds a pediatric oncology hematology clinic,” said Nick. “Putting smiles on the faces of kids going through some of the toughest times imaginable—I’m really proud of what we accomplish as a team.”
“It’s incredible,” said Jennifer. “It’s such an honor—there’s so many ways that Jarrett’s impact has been recognized. And we are always mindful that it’s not about waving the Jarrett flag. It’s about using Jarrett’s story as a way to bring about awareness and bring about change.”