Team Jayden: CCAK mentorship helps fund mentee’s medical bills

Colby Cares About Kids (CCAK) is wildly popular at Colby. Students from the college become mentors for elementary and middle school students in the greater Waterville era, providing homework help, guidance, and friendship to at-risk youth. The program has recently swelled in size (around 450 students participated in CCAK last year) yet one particular mentorship sticks out.   

Meet Braden Wilson ’17 and Jayden, a 13 year old at Lawrence Junior High School in Fairfield, ME. This mentor/mentee pair have an unusual caveat to their relationship: Jayden was diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin’s Lymphoma two years ago.

“I first heard Jayden had leukemia when I got back to school my sophomore year,” said Wilson. “It was tough because I had just gotten to know the kid; when I heard the news I had only hung out with him less than 10 times.”

Once Braden heard that Jayden had leukemia, he immediately thought of fundraising as a way to mitigate the astronomical medical bills associated with leukemia treatment. He had already spent time in Waterville participating in a civic engagement program for his education class, and thus had firsthand experience with the hardships of a low-income community. 

“I thought about fundraising for Jayden kind of immediately,” said Wilson. “I mean everyone knows you can’t pay for those medical bills. Most families could never pay for that on their own so my first instinct was how I could help that process.”

Wilson first contacted one of Jayden’s classmates who had started a GoFundMe page for his medical bills. Wilson promoted and advertised the page at Colby, and within weeks, the site had received over $1,500 in donations. Building off this success, Wilson decided to fundraise aggressively for Jayden through a variety of  other venues.

[After the success of the GoFundMe page], we ordered armbands for Jayden with Lori Morin, the CCAK director. The armbands are purple and they say Team Jayden, and we sold those for a donation…and that got around 500-800 hundred dollars,” said Wilson.

Fundraising decelerated in the Spring as Jayden’s condition improved, but over the summer Jayden’s medical bills peaked as he underwent a life-saving bone marrow transplant to battle his leukemia. When Wilson returned to Colby in the Fall, he realized Jayden and his single, working mother were in desperate need of finances. In reponse, Wilson organized a campus-wide fundraiser at the Tufts versus Colby home football game to raise the necessary money.

“This year was the big one with the Tufts Football game and the home fundraiser there with the green armbands…and what I’ve done this year to help out is that I have paired up with Gracie Baldwin ‘16, who is the ambassador for the Gift of Life Foundation on campus,” said Wilson. “The Gift of Life Foundation is for bone marrow transplants and awareness of those transplants, which was especially important because Jayden underwent a life-saving bone marrow transplant this summer.”

This pairing not only provided immediate assistance to Jayden’s family (the one day event raised around 2,500 dollars), but has also raised awareness about Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and the difficulties of bone narrow transplants, around campus. Wilson found this idea especially appealing; after his work with Jayden, he wanted to educate others on the dangers and effects of leukemia.

“I paired up with her [Gracie] and she has really been spearheading the swabbing and getting people checked into the registry for the bone marrow, and she was a huge help with the fundraisers this year too. Even though it’s not only going to be funding for Jayden’s family, I still like to push the bone marrow registry at school because it is a really good cause.”   

Throughout the fundraising process, Wilson made sure to never lose sight of his relationship with Jayden. Although Wilson was unable to visit Jayden regularly directly after his prognosis, he now spends two hours with Jayden every Monday at his house or in the hospital. This intimacy caused their mentorship to blossom.  

“We have a really good relationship. It’s obviously not a classic mentor/mentee relationship, but it is really more like a friendship because the context of our relationship extends a little further than a traditional CCAK mentorship. There is a good sense of trust there now. I don’t know whether or not that trust came from our relationship when he was sick or whether it came from me actually giving him the time of day the past couple of years, but either way we’ve built a relationship.”

This relationship, Braden said, will continue to grow and change, as Jayden is set to return to school this spring following his successful bone marrow transplant. Although fundraising has taken a backseat since the successful football game, Wilson’s experience with Jayden will stick with him forever.

“To be honest with you I didn’t think we would be we are right now, knowing how sick he actually was…I had more of a guard up throughout the process because I knew what could happen, but that’s gone away now that it looks like he is going to be okay,” Wilson concluded. “I’m going to sound sappy and cliché but it puts things in perspective. Your problems aren’t very big problems.” 

The link to donate to Jayden’s GoFundMe site is: www.gofundme.com/e6bihw. Any support is still necessary and appreciated.

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