Every year, the U.S. Junior Chamber, better known as the Jaycees, chooses Ten Outstanding Young Americans.
Past winners include John Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Elvis Presley, Howard Hughes, Orson Wells, Ted Kennedy, Ann Bancroft, Henry Ford II, Nelson Rockefeller—and Jessica Bachus, founder of Dolls for Daughters® and Kenzi’s Kidz.
The 2012 awards were presented last weekend. And Jessica was one of three former winners who helped pick this year’s Ten Outstanding Young Americans—a task she describes as “difficult and daunting” because the field of 25 finalists was so strong.
“I read over those 25 applications several times,” Jessica says. “There are so many heroes among us. It was hard to take the 25 and pick 10 winners. They all have such great qualities. And they’re all making a difference. It’s amazing.”
Jessica was honored by the Jaycees last year for her work with Dolls for Daughters® and Kenzi’s Kidz. Jessica founded Dolls for Daughters® in 2007 following the loss at birth of her daughter Kenzi. Since then, Dolls for Daughters® has given away more than 14,000 new toys to needy children in the Denver area. She created Kenzi’s Kidz in 2009 to help needy families who are taking steps to turn their lives around.
Among this year’s winners was Kyle Pagerly, a deputy sheriff and K-9 handler for the Berks County, Pennsylvania, Sheriff’s Department. Pagerly and his dog, Jynx, were killed on June 29, 2011, in a gun battle with a fugitive they had been tracking. Pagerly’s actions while mortally wounded were credited with saving the lives of others on his team. His widow, Alecia, accepted his award.
This year’s other Outstanding Young Americans are: Jessica Black, director of sales and marketing, Premier Logic, Georgia; Lt. Gov. Brian Calley of Michigan; Honolulu City Councilwoman Tulsi Gabbard, Hawaii; Fred Hoiberg, men’s head basketball coach, Iowa State University; Christopher Masingill, federal co-chairman, Delta Regional Authority, Arkansas; Michael Pruitt, owner and head of operations, Vine Martini and Wine Bar, Illinois; Sanjay Ramabhadran, vice president CP&Y, Texas; Chandler Vatavuk, attorney, Vatavuk Law Firm, North Carolina; and Dr. David Washington, president and CEO of Washington and Company, LLC, North Carolina. The TOYA awards have been presented annually since 1938.
“It was very difficult for Alecia to be there because it was the day after the anniversary of her husband’s death,” Jessica says. “It was very emotional.”
And that was a bit of deja vu for Jessica, who says her own acceptance speech last year was a deeply emotional experience. “When you lose a child, you can’t go in front of hundreds of people to talk about it and not be emotional.”
The real lesson of being named one of the Ten Outstanding Young Americans last year, Jessica says, is that Dolls for Daughters® and Kenzi’s Kidz are really making a difference.
“I was the one who received the award,” she says. “But the people who have donated toys and money and time as volunteers are the ones who make it happen. We’ve given away more than 14,000 toys. And, with the continued support of our donors and volunteers, we’ll give away thousands more this Christmas. We’re bringing smiles to the faces of kids who sometimes don’t have much to smile about.”