By ERIKA I. RITCHIEÂ / THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
IRVINE â€“ Hundreds of swimmers turned out Sunday to raise funds for a group dedicated to helping children with cancer.
More than 30 teams and 240 swimmers took part in relays and wacky contests in the first Joy Splash, an event to honor Jessie Rees, 12, a former Mission Viejo Nadadores swimmer, who died in January after a 10-month battle with cancer. The event, held at the William Woollett Jr. Aquatics Center also raised funds for the Jessie Rees Foundation, formerly the NEGU Foundation.
The foundation’s name will officially be changed to the Jessie Rees Foundation on April 8, which would have been Jessie’s 13th birthday. The foundation’s motto will always be Never Ever Give Up, said Erik Rees, Jessie’s father.
Through team and individual sponsorships, a silent auction and raffles, the event raised nearly $15,000. The money will be used to support children fighting cancer in Orange County. The foundation’s mission is to spread hope, joy and love to courageous kids fighting cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
The foundation was founded by Jessie Rees of Rancho Santa Margarita shortly after she was diagnosed last year. Jessie inspired tens of thousands of Facebook fans around the world. She turned her illness into a chance to rally for other kids with cancer.
Jessie, with help from her parents, family and friends, created the Joy Jar concept and the Never Ever Give Up foundation to help make young cancer patients’ lives a little happier and easier. To date, the foundation has created thousands of Joy Jars, filled with toys, stickers, games, puzzles, for children throughout the country.
The fundraiser included Olympic swimmers Kaitlin Sandeno, of Lake Forest, Chloe Sutton, of Mission Viejo and John Mykkanen, of Irvine, who swam in relays and signed autographs. The event also unveiled the official NEGU swimsuit.
Hailey Cavaglieri, 8, celebrated her birthday at the swim event. She raised $1,000 in sponsorships by telling friends and family that sponsorships for her swimming would be her birthday presents.
Hailey had met Jessie and was inspired by her fight. She was also there to raise awareness for her friend Isabella Nordrum, who is fighting an inoperable brain tumor.
“We are so honored to have such a great turnout from the swimming community to support Jessie’s wish to spread hope, joy and love to every courageous kid fighting cancer in America,” Erik Rees said. “Jessie loved swimming and spreading joy to other kids fighting. She knew fighting cancer made you feel lonely and limited, so she choose love as her medicine.”
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