Keri Jucha is a 2014 Robert Sheppard Leadership Award recipient. This award is given to students who have demonstrated excellent leadership in community service. Keri is a graduating senior from California.
My journey began and ended with “Thank you.” On July 20, 2006, I was with my family at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Israel. Like so many others before me, I scribbled a secret message to G-d and squeezed it into the cracks of the wall. Two weeks later, I found myself in Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego. As doctors swarmed my bedside they decided I needed lifesaving brain surgery. I had a brain abscess caused by a sinus infection at just 10 years old.
Nine endless days later I was freed from the hospital. 53 staples stood like soldiers on the top of my head stretching from ear to ear. Bead by bead, I had strung necklaces and bracelets together in my room and challenged other patients to board games in the playroom but after endless hours of the same routine I longed for something new. What I really wanted to do was go to the movies. After being denied by the doctors to leave, an idea sparked in my mind: to bring the movies to the hospital.
Once I was released and over the course of the following 7 years, I pursued that idea and auctioned off the jewelry I had been making in the hospital and during my recovery. Bead by bead, necklace by necklace, over those 7 years I raised over $20,000. I bought that portable movie system and DVD players and delivered it to the hospital in a red carpet premier a few months after my surgery. Over the next several years, I also purchased laptop computers, beanie babies, and Polaroid cameras all proceeds from the jewelry I was making. Last year I ran an auction on Pinterest and sold my jewelry to purchase iPads for the kids.
My goal was always to provide fun for the kids who found themselves in such a dark and scary place like the hospital and to have an outlet for them from one of the only places you cannot just get away from. As an 11 year old girl, I learned I could make a difference. Delivering the laptops in person and seeing the looks on the kids’ faces is something I will never forget. It filled my heart with joy, a feeling I have come to love. After I felt that once, I didn’t dare stop there. I don’t know why I was brought on this journey but it has impacted my life and taught me that giving back isn’t only about how it impacts your community but how it impacts and brightens your own life.
Instead of being embarrassed or insecure when people ask me about the giant scar on my head, I simply reply that I’m lucky to have this scar because it means that I’m alive. That scary hospital became my community and I finally understood what giving back to your community actually meant; it was an opportunity to show your gratitude because thank you didn’t seem like enough. One bead at a time, I made a difference, bringing life to the white walls surrounding the kids in the hospital playroom. I may be just one person, but knowing I made a difference to just one of those kids was enough for me. Before I knew any of this would happen, I was already grateful for my life. When I myself was surrounded by those same claustrophobic, white walls my mom asked me what I had written on my note at the western wall. I told her I had written “Thank You.”