Newcastle schools don denim for Jeans for Jess day

When vice-captains of St Francis Xavier’s College, Sophie Dever and Tom Rodgers, learned that former student Jessica Collins had fractured her C4 and C5 vertebrae as a result of falling from a stand-up paddle board and was unlikely to walk again, they were determined to act.

Not only was Jess a former student, along with her brother Daniel and sister Emma, but their mother Sandy is a member of staff, so the connection is strong.

As Tom said, “When we read the statistics about the ongoing costs of paraplegia, we knew we had to help. We wanted to involve all her schools – St Joseph’s Primary at Merewether, St Pius X at Adamstown and St Francis Xavier’s – so she knows she’s supported, the family knows she’s supported, and we have a connection with her.

“The weight of what she’s dealing with struck a chord with all of us.”  

Sophie and Tom suggested a fundraiser to principal, Br Robert Sutton fms, and offered to communicate with the principals of the other schools. Br Robert was on board immediately, acknowledging that it was not only about fundraising but about awareness-raising.

“Jeans for Jess Day” was conceived and when Sophie addressed the assembly of staff and students, there was instant support. “The students realised we had to do something, especially for someone who was such an integral part of our community.”

Taking inspiration from what has become an iconic photograph of Jess surrounded by sunflowers, sunflowers were sported by students and staff, and an old-fashioned and very effective cake stall was held.

Tom feels that the suddenness of the accident had an impact on everyone. “Today’s been so successful because people realised it could happen to anyone and they wanted to help.”

At the time of writing, the school communities have raised over $4000 and are still counting!

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Tracey Edstein Image
Tracey Edstein

Tracey Edstein is the former editor of Aurora Magazine, the official magazine of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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