Holly Springs resident Jesse Kool might only be 12 years old but his deep insight into the importance of helping others goes far beyond his age.
Jesse recently held his seventh annual birthday toy drive for Duke Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in Durham.
With the help of family, friends and Infinity Ballet Conservatory and Theatre in Apex, Jesse was able to collect 468 toys that will be given to sick children at Duke.
The home-schooled student was just five years old when he first decided to donate all his birthday gifts to the hospital. His unselfishness and charitable spirit have only grown stronger through the years.
“I was in the hospital when Jesse was very young,” said his mother, Carlena Kool. “He found out that the sick children were given toys to help them deal with the scariness of it all. Once he saw that he was hooked.”
Jesse’s toy drive soon grew into a big event in the family’s then hometown of Henderson. Local businesses and the town’s fire department helped him any way they could.
One manager at a CVS store would even call the Kools whenever he was ready to dispose of any old inventory in the store. The family would collect the items and donate everything to local charities.
The Kools found that same type of willingness to help when they moved to Holly Springs just a couple of years ago. Friends and neighbors were eager to get involved.
The support rose to a new level this year when Infinity Ballet adopted the toy drive as one of their community projects.
Jesse’s 13-year-old sister, Anna Marie, is a dancer at an Infinity Ballet and has the same type of charitable traits as Jesse. A volunteer for the American Red Cross, Anna Marie has also organized fundraisers for people in need.
When Infinity Ballet heard about Jesse’s project and Anna Marie’s involvement with it, they didn’t hesitate to help.
A special toy drop table was set up during Infinity Ballet’s recent 10th anniversary performance and dancers helped collect toys the week before the show.
“Infinity Ballet has been amazing,” said Carlena. “They really took this on as their project. They look to become involved in the community and they really support the children.”
The toy drive has taken on a deeper personal meaning to Jesse in recent years. When he was 10 he became a patient at Duke to have a tumor removed from his back.
Jesse already knew many of the people working at Duke through his toy drive and then suddenly he became one of their young patients.
“It really showed him how important it is to help others,” said Carlena. “Here he was collecting all these toys for other children and now he was on the receiving end. That really made an impact.”
As folks marvel at how Jesse and Anna Marie have done so much despite their youth, Carlena and her husband, Ryan, are equally impressed with how many people have happily helped their kids’ charitable efforts.
“I think kids want to make a difference in the world and this toy drive is a great way to provide that opportunity,” said Carlena. “We are always amazed by the support people have given our kids. It was that way in Henderson and it’s the same way here in Holly Springs and Apex. No matter how many times we see it we are always humbled by it.”