“New Tampa Teen Named Lightning Community Hero”
December 8, 2015
TAMPA — N’Jhari Jackson is the personification of selflessness.
In the years since he, at age 5, was given a stuffed animal by a nurse prior to undergoing a medical procedure at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Tampa, he’s been paying her act of kindness forward over and over again.
N’Jhari — with the help of family, schoolmates, fellow Boy Scout Troop 142 members and the community at large — has collected hundreds of what he calls Pajama Buddies he’s donated to Shriners and other hospitals as well as to homebound kids suffering from serious illnesses.
With money he and others solicited, he’s also filled backpacks with items like e-readers, books, iPods and snacks for children with lengthy hospital stays.
In addition, the New Tampa resident also raised $1,800 to help cover the medical expenses of a girl in Atlanta battling advanced kidney cancer. And he’s collected and delivered Kool Sox 4 Kids to Joshua House, a home in Lutz for abused and abandoned children.
Moreover, he raised enough money a few months ago to purchase defibrillators for the Paideia School of Tampa Bay, where he is an eighth-grader.
And while never intentionally seeking notoriety, the myriad of good deeds by the now 14-year-old boy have not gone unnoticed.
The Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation recently named Jackson a Lightning Community Hero, a prestigious honor that earned him a gift of $50,000 to disperse among local charitable organizations of his choice.
They include Shriners Hospital for Children — Tampa, which specializes in pediatric care for orthopedic and neuromuscular conditions; Paideia School of Tampa Bay, a private Christian school for grades K-12; Joshua House, a program of the Children’s Home Society of Florida; Boy Scout Troop 142, through which Jackson was recently awarded his Eagle Scout badge; and Haley House, a private charity that helps pay the cost of a hotel stay for families of military men and women being treated at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa who live more than 50 miles from the center and have limited incomes.
Jackson was recognized before a crowd at Amalie Arena in downtown Tampa just prior to the start of the Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Anaheim Ducks game. The thrill of being named a community hero was etched on his face for all to see via the facility’s multiple jumbo-sized screens.
“It was truly one of the best nights of my life,” he said. “I was wishing everyone who has ever helped me deliver a smile to a kid could have experienced that moment.”
One of those people is his mother, Lashina Lewis, who was at his side during the presentation.
“Watching N’Jhari get recognized for something that comes so natural and that is such a part of who he is, there are no words because you don’t expect something that big to happen,” said Lewis, a single mom.
Alicia Argiz-Lyons, director of development and marketing at the Shriners hospital in Tampa — a $20,000 recipient of Jackson’s award — spoke on behalf of the hospital’s CEO Jeannette Skinner, who was there for the presentation, but unavailable for comments following the ceremony.
“He’s been one of our grateful patients and, in turn, we are so thankful for all he has done for Shriners in the years since,” Argiz-Lyons said. “He’s an exceptional young man and I’m amazed at his maturity. He always thinks of others before thinking of himself.”
Bethanne Demas, Shriners Hospitals’ senior regional director of public relations and communications, recalled meeting Jackson several years ago when she was doing a live radio broadcast at the hospital seeking donations.
“N’Jhari heard it on the radio in the car and asked his mom to turn around and go home so he could get money from his piggy bank, and he brought it the hospital,” Demas said. “Even back then I thought about him having such a generous spirit and it’s been a natural progression to see him continue to give.”
Paideia headmaster Dr. Tim Bridges also was present to see Jackson honored. His school received $10,000, money that will be spent on professional development for teachers as well as an intercom system.
“It was a very special night and N’Jhari is a very special young man,” he said. “The thing about N’Jhari is that he’s very much one of the guys, but what sets him apart is that he’s always looking for ways to serve.”
Janet Caramello, philanthropy director of the Children’s Home Society of Florida, is struck by Jackson’s outstanding character and his thoughtfulness in donating a portion of his award to the Joshua House.
“It’s just so wonderful to see such passion from someone at such a young age,” said Caramello, who noted Jackson, with the help of others, also donates teddy bears to the children at Joshua House.
“He’s such a wonderful role model for people in the Tampa Bay area and throughout the world. He inspires others to also see a need and respond to it,” she added.
Haley House board member Mary Ellen Harlan also is in awe of Jackson’s giving spirit and his gift to her organization.
“He’s just such a good kid and he truly deserves the recognition,” Harlan said.
In October, on behalf of Volunteer Florida, Gov. Rick Scott and his cabinet members presented Jackson with the Champion of Service Award to honor him for going above and beyond in service to his community.