Student Leadership Training Program (SLTP) founder, Jim Fitzgerald emphasized service, “A big part of everyday is spent building character and those efforts culminate on Friday with our service project. For the last few years that project has been to decorate hats to provide to hospitals to give to kids.” The service project centered around David Saltzman’s magical children’s book, The Jester Has Lost His Jingle. which has been a part of the SLTP program since it’s publication in 1995.
Saltzman was an English and art major at Yale University, diagnosed with cancer during his senior year. For the next year-and-a-half, he kept a journal of his thoughts and drawings while completing The Jester Lost His Jingle and other stories. David Saltzman died 11 days before his 23rd birthday. Five years later, his parents published The Jester Has Lost His Jingle and printed 10,000 copies to give to hospitalized children. The book imparts lessons of hope, humor, encouragement and charity. David’s parents also established the Jester & Pharley Phund, a non-profit dedicated “to bringing the joy of laughter and the love of learning to all children, especially those who may be ill or have special needs.”
Regarding the SLTP service project, Jim explains, “It is a defining time for our kids,and we celebrate their feelings by sharing David’s wonderful story about choices and the meaning of love. The group explores the concept of service and how to make it more meaningful and less of a chore.” At the end of the difference maker workshop, each student receives a large, decorative safety pin with a jingle bell to wear at future SLTP events. “We tell them,” says Fitzgerald, ‘When you hear the bell jingle, you need to remember: It’s up to YOU to make a difference. It’s up to YOU to care.’”
Many SLTP students returned to their high schools and implemented The Jester & Pharley Phund’s Reading To Give program in their local elementary schools. Neil Fachon volunteered to lead the program in East Greenwich. He teamed up with other SLTP alumni, planned meetings, coordinated the paperwork, helped present dramatic readings of the book to elementary classrooms and enrolled the younger students in read-a-thons to raise money for giving Jester books and dolls to pediatric cancer patients at nearby hospitals. He also helped thread beaded jingle bells to give out as a reminder of the Jester and his joyful spirit.
Four years later, when Neil was hospitalized for brain surgery and later pneumonia, I wore the jingle pin he had made everyday. One unforgettable character in The Jester Has Lost His Jingle is a little girl lying in a hospital bed with her head wrapped in a bandage. The jester visits her room, talks with her and tries to cheer her up. It is the most precious moment of the story. It is where the Jester discovers he still has his jingle – his ability to bring joy to others.
Many people are unaware that when a child has a serious illness, his or her life can become depressingly isolated. Some children are so sick they are unable to go to school and be with their friends. It is easy for the kids at school to forget about the friend who is not present. While siblings, parents and caregivers do their best to tend to the well-being of a pediatric cancer patient, that patient sorely misses the company of friends. Friends are special! Friends are the jesters of life!
Since Neil’s passing on February 19, 2017 from DIPG brain cancer, $20,401 in cash and in-kind contributions have been given in Neil’s memory to The Jester & Pharley Phund to help bring joy and laughter to hospitalized children. These kind gifts have resulted in the donation of 577 Jester books and 448 Jester dolls and 4 Jester Educator Enrichment Manuals to hospitals, as well as the donation of a Smile Cart to Camp Sunshine, along with 36 Jester books, 2 Jester dolls and 2 PhunBooks.
The Jester Has Lost His Jingle is Dream Visions 7 Radio’s February Kids Book-of-the-Month. For every $10 donation in Neil’s memory, The Phund will be honored to donate a copy of “The Jester Has Lost His Jingle.” The donor and Neil will be acknowledged in a bookplate. You may want to order a copy for a special child in your life; this book is inspirational for students or for anyone of any age who could use a mood booster. Donations and personal orders can be made online at www.thejester.org or checks may be mailed to The Jester & Pharley Phund, P.O. Box 817, Palos Verdes Estates, CA 90274. Donors may also contribute by calling 310-544-4733. Be a difference maker, give the gift of joy and laughter to someone in need.