Jayden at Mary Bridge Dinner

Jayden Nelson speaks on stage during a recent Mary Bridge Children’s Foundation luncheon in Tacoma at which she was asked to help present the Service Organization Hero Award. 

On this sixth day of Christmas, let’s keep the yuletide feeling alive by meeting a Doty girl who lives out the season’s spirit of generosity all year long.

Jayden Nelson, 8, has spent the year practicing the art of giving, and she recently was a featured guest at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital as they honored their donors and supporters. Jayden stood on stage in front of hundreds of people during their foundation’s Bridge Builders Luncheon in Tacoma, where she helped present the Service Organization Hero Award. 

Two days later, she and her mother were up early in Chehalis, helping serve plates of flapjacks and sausage at the annual Santa Breakfast, a popular annual children’s hospital fundraiser by the Adaline Coffman Guild.

One is immediately impressed with Jayden’s force of personality and her drive. She told us about how she donated her birthday gifts and money this year to Mary Bridge. How she ran a lemonade stand at this year’s Ride the Willapa, raising hundreds of dollars. How she held a toy drive, how she made candles to sell for funds to donate. How she challenges others to give. 

Jayden at Chehalis Santa Breakfast

Jayden Nelson, 8, fellow Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital benefactor John Gust, and St. Nick at the annual Santa Breakfast in Chehalis last Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017. 

It all began last spring, when Joleen Peterson, Jayden’s second-grade teacher (also known in the family as Jayden’s beloved Aunt Jo Jo), read a book to her class about “Change Makers.”

“It talked about these different kinds of change makers,” Jayden said. “I came home and told my mom, ‘I wanted to be a change maker.’”

Her mom, Eddi, was confused for a moment.

“You want to be in a factory and make coins?” she said. 

“No mom! I want to do good for the world.”

Her mother, who owns Kettle Creek (a retailer and espresso shop in Pe Ell), had just talked earlier that day with John Gust, who had stopped into her store and mentioned his annual spaghetti feed to benefit Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital. 

Eddi suggested that Jayden could help him. 

The second-grader began her cascade of generosity by donating her toys and money that she received for her 8th birthday. It’s only grown from there. 

“Jayden has always been a very determined little girl. If something seems impossible, or highly unlikely, she will go at it in a different direction,” her aunt said. “She doesn’t  just accept ‘no’ or ‘that is too hard.’ Add to this her kind and generous heart and it is the perfect combination. Jayden sees the best in every person and situation.”

Peterson said this was the first year she had read “Change Makers,” by Libby Martinez (it’s part of their new reading curriculum), and she said it had an impact on many of her students. There were sign-up sheets circulating around the classroom for weekend playground clean-up and lemonade stands to help cancer patients.

“It just goes to prove to me that we should never underestimate our youth,” said Peterson, who is in her 20th year of teaching in Pe Ell. “Jayden has the support of her mom to help her make change happen, but it is within all of us to be Change Makers. I am very proud of Jayden, and believe she will have a lasting impact on a lot of people.”

At Mary Bridge, they see Jayden as a dynamo and an inspiration (along with her energetic mother, whose able management of these myriad projects inspired Jayden to label her “momager”). 

“Jayden is a true gem to the children of Mary Bridge. She is the most selfless 8-year-old I’ve ever met, and while we have a few incredible children collecting toys and raising money for Mary Bridge sporadically, Jayden has been doing this tirelessly for a year,” said Cindy Niemi, major gifts officer of the Mary Bridge Children’s Foundation. 

They noted that after one recent fundraiser and toy drive, Jayden and her mom had to make three trips from Doty to Mary Bridge to transport all the toys that would become Christmas gifts for the ill children at the hospital.

“She is definitely living up to her motto of being a Change Maker,” Niemi said. “She is not shy in sharing why she does this – to make a difference in sick children’s lives, even though she doesn’t know them.”

Christmas comes ’round just once a year, but Jayden is a year-round phenomenon. I suspect we’ll be hearing much more from her in the years ahead, inviting us to serve others with youthful energy and ageless delight. You can follow her journey at www.facebook.com/jaydenchangemaker 

“She’s not done yet,” said Gust, who has already booked Jayden to help with his annual benefit spaghetti feed this coming April 14 and is mentoring her in further fundraising projects. “She’s just getting started.”

•••

Brian Mittge is celebrating all 12 days of Christmas. Drop him a line with your story of how you’re keeping the Christmas spirit alive at brianmittge@hotmail.com. 

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