Photos of a young girl with a beautiful smile and giving heart light up a Stanardsville home. The photos help the family remember why they operate Jaida’s Joy, a nonprofit whose goal is to help children in Greene County— because Jaida Tooley no longer can.
In November, it’ll be seven years since Jaida, a then 9-year-old fourth-grader at Nathanael Greene Elementary School, unexpectedly died from viral myocarditis.
“I was angry at the world, angry at God and there were no answers,” Duane Tooley said recently. “The more I thought about it as I was trying to understand it, it finally came to me. We knew we wanted to something to honor her memory. It’s helped with the healing process, I think.”
Tears filled his eyes as he realized Jaida would be 16 years old now.
Duane and Doronda Tooley were technically her grandparents, but had raised her since she was 14 months old.
Jaida’s Joy has supplied those in need with school supplies, food items and personal hygiene products since 2014.
“When we would go school shopping with Jaida, she’d say let’s get extra,” Duane Tooley said. “All of this was just born out of the love and compassion she had for others.”
Surrounded by hundreds of school supplies in her basement, Doronda Tooley called Jaida an “old soul.”
“She was in gymnastics, brownies and involved in (Stanardsville United Methodist Church),” she said. “Any time things were going wrong she would say, ‘Don’t worry, God’s got this.’ That’s what she would say.”
Duane Tooley smiled.
“Even when she was in second grade she’d get upset because fifthgraders were picking on the kindergarteners,” he recalled. “One day she got off the bus and I asked what’s wrong and she said, ‘The fifth-graders were picking on a kid and I told them how would you feel if someone bigger was picking on you?’ I was like ‘Oh my God, this from a second grader’.”
This year the Tooleys decided to get school supplies that a middleor high-schooler would need, as well.
“We were trying to stay with elementary school kids and then we heard that the schools would be helping there, but the middle school and high school students were on their own,” Doronda Tooley said.
So, they bought calculators, graphing paper, thumb drives, ear buds and compasses to help those students.
“Jaida was awesome,” said her uncle Jason Tooley. “Any time she ran into a less-fortunate child, my parents would always talk about it, if she went to school and a kid didn’t have a backpack or something she was known to leave her items there so that child could have the items they needed.
She was always giving. I’m sure she’s smiling down right now.”
Duane Tooley said it’s been rewarding to know they’ve helped carry on Jaida’s legacy of helping others.
“You could see the joy it brought her knowing she was helping out those less fortunate,” he said. “She loved everyone.”
Jason Tooley said it’s great hearing that the primary and elementary schools are supplying basic school supplies this year, but there is more Jaida’s Joy can do to help beyond that; such as helping the backpack food programs at the schools to help kids have healthy hot meals on weekends and in the summer. The nonprofit also helps fulfill wishes on the Angel Tree each year.
“I don’t think Greene County realizes how many kids go hungry each day. Being a former [school resource officer] in Greene my biggest fear was summertime. Some kids don’t know if they’re going to get that next meal, next hot bath, next clothes, so that was my biggest worry. I think there’s a lot of stuff in Greene where people don’t realize how good they have it, and that there are less fortunate,” he said.
For many years, Jaida’s Joy held a fundraising race to honor her love of running. The day before she died, Jaida ran in a Girls on the Run race in Staunton with her school friends. However, Duane Tooley said they’re also looking at other ideas for fundraising instead of doing a race.
“I want to be sure people know that we’re here,” he said. “If you need anything, we’re here.”
Doronda said people can let them know what they need through Jason Tooley, through Jaida’s Joy’s Facebook page or through a school counselor.
“We don’t need a name, just the age of the child and whether it’s for a girl or a boy,” she said. “Anywhere we can help a child and make an impact in their lives or make their lives better we’re happy to help out.”
Jaida’s Joy is taking supply donations or monetary donations. In addition to Facebook or through Jaida’s uncle Jason Tooley, items may be dropped off at the Greene County Record office Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will be given to the Tooleys.