UK HealthCare

Jarrett’s Joy Cart keeps rolling after 25 years

image of Jarrett with his cart of toys in 1999
Image of Doug, Claire, and Jennifer with carts of toys
image of Mynears with big yellow cancer ribbon
image of Jennifer Mynear with former patient Leah
image of Jarrett with his cart.

LEXINGTON, KY. (May 16, 2024) — Among the boxes of hospital supplies, ladders and tools, an incandescent light shines in a dark storage room of the University of Kentucky Albert B. Chandler Hospital. A joyful light.

Four metal carts are overflowing with toys, coloring books, Barbie dolls, action figures, stuff animals and craft kits. Jennifer Mynear, her husband Doug and daughter Claire, along with friend and longtime volunteer Guy Jones, do a quick inventory of their stock. Are there enough crayons and markers for the coloring books?  According to kids, Peppa Pig is out, and Bluey is in. Does anything need batteries?

Satisfied that all age ranges and interests are represented, the carts are carefully rolled onto an elevator and up to the inpatient unit of Kentucky Children’s Hospital.

The Joy Cart has arrived.

This has been the weekly ritual for the Mynears for 25 years. The Joy Cart is the legacy of their son Jarrett, who gave toys to children at Kentucky Children's Hospital when he himself was a patient there.

Diagnosed at age 2 with an aggressive bone cancer called Ewing's Sarcoma, Jarrett spent most of his life in and out of various hospitals and clinics. From extended hospital stays to daylong chemotherapy sessions, Jarrett knew firsthand not just the fear and anxiety of treatments, but the extreme boredom that came with treatment. While at a hospital in Seattle for a stem-cell transplant, some volunteers came by Jarrett's room with a cart full of toys. In his book, "The Boy Who Delivered Joy," co-anchor of Lexington TV station Fox 56 news and Mynear family friend Marvin Bartlett described the pivotal moment when the idea was planted in Jarrett's head. The volunteers made the rounds every Friday, and Jarrett was there long enough to see them three times. Their visits not only provided him with a much-needed distraction, but it gave him something to look forward to. Jarrett thought his fellow patients at Kentucky Children's Hospital could benefit from such a service. Jarrett's Joy Cart was born.

Jarrett’s dedication to the Joy Cart was tenacious. He solicited donations from local businesses, used the donated funds to purchase toys for his fellow patients and promoted his Joy Cart in interviews with everyone from local media to Oprah ­– all while battling the cancer that kept coming back. On Oct. 4, 2002, Jarrett succumbed to his disease, but his legacy left an indelible impression on everyone who knew him. It also left his family with a mission.

Every Tuesday, for 25 years, Jennifer, Doug and Claire continue Jarrett’s work, rolling the carts through the halls of KCH, offering toys, smiles and hope to every patient they meet.

“It’s a way of keeping his legacy going,” said Jennifer, Jarrett’s mother. “Jarrett always felt like he was given the opportunity to be a voice, to raise awareness for other children, and for giving them moments of joy and giving them something to look forward to.”

Not even a global pandemic could silence that voice or slow the roll of the Joy Cart. In the early days of COVID-19, the Mynears and Joy Cart volunteers would meet up in the KCH playroom, bagging up toys based on age and interest for the Child Life staff to distribute. During the pandemic’s peak, when volunteers weren’t allowed in the hospital, Jennifer ran a Bingo game for patients out of her home office, with Joy Cart toys awarded as prizes.

“We never missed a beat, thanks to the Child Life team,” said Jennifer. The Joy Cart might have slowed down a bit, but it never stopped.

The Cart rolls on

Just as they do every Tuesday, the Mynears and their volunteers spend a few minutes looking over the list of patients provided by KCH staff. They spot some familiar names; there are patients who have been in KCH for a long time, bravely fighting illnesses and injuries. Through these prolonged stays, the Joy Cart volunteers have gotten to know these children and take some extra time to pick out something they know they would like. For these patients, knowing the Joy Cart is coming is a bright spot in what otherwise could be a trying, exhausting week.

“We see families who are in crisis situations," said Jennifer. “They do take notice, not just of our purpose, but that moment of joy. One of our sayings is in joy, there is a moment of healing. We sometimes see the same families week after week, and we know they can’t wait for our Tuesday visit.”

The impact of Jarrett Mynear doesn’t stop at toys. Through Jarrett’s Joy Cart, thousands of dollars have been raised and donated to support patient education, a 55" table tablet was purchased for the older KCH patients, “treasure boxes” were placed in the clinics from which patients pick out a prize at the end of a visit, a sanitizing machine was purchased to clean toys in the hematology/oncology clinic.

One of the biggest projects is one that hits close to home for the Mynears - $125,000 endowment to establish a sibling support program in KCH's palliative care division. Often during a child's illness, so much of the parents' time, energy and attention are diverted away from their other children. This program provides support and resources for children impacted by their sibling’s treatment, much in the way Jarrett’s sister Claire was throughout her early childhood. These are just a few of the projects Jarrett’s Joy Cart has supported over the last 25 years.

And everyone knows about the biggest, most impactful venture to come from the Mynears – DanceBlue, the annual 24-hour dance marathon that has raised over $22 million dollars since 2006 for pediatric oncology treatment and research and founded the DanceBlue Hematology/Oncology Clinic at KCH. The clinic’s waiting room features Jarrett’s name and photo.

The future of the Joy Cart is just as clear and bright as the smiles on patients’ faces. The Mynears have a number of projects in the works that would not just provide monetary and logistical support for hospital programs and services, but honor Jarrett’s mission to bring joy to every patient at KCH.

“In joy, there is a moment of healing,” said Jennifer. “It's very humbling to realize that's Jarrett knew that was exactly what they needed.”

Jarrett’s Joy Cart is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a gala at UK’s Kroger Field on Saturday, May 18. Tickets can be purchased online here.

To support Jarrett’s Joy Cart, click here to make a donation and see a list of current needs.

UK HealthCare is the hospitals and clinics of the University of Kentucky. But it is so much more. It is more than 10,000 dedicated health care professionals committed to providing advanced subspecialty care for the most critically injured and ill patients from the Commonwealth and beyond. It also is the home of the state’s only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, a Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit that cares for the tiniest and sickest newborns, the region’s only Level 1 trauma center and Kentucky’s top hospital ranked by U.S. News & World Report.

As an academic research institution, we are continuously pursuing the next generation of cures, treatments, protocols and policies. Our discoveries have the potential to change what’s medically possible within our lifetimes. Our educators and thought leaders are transforming the health care landscape as our six health professions colleges teach the next generation of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health care professionals, spreading the highest standards of care. UK HealthCare is the power of advanced medicine committed to creating a healthier Kentucky, now and for generations to come.