N'Jhari Jackson wins Eagle Scout, National Volunteer Award

 N'Jhari Jackson loves to help people.  So much, in fact, that the 12-year-old  soon-to-be New Tampa Eagle Scout and volunteer’s efforts have helped earn him recognition as one of the country’s top youth volunteers. He also just wrapped up his culminating Eagle Scout project at the tender age of 12. Jackson is an active Boy Scout in Troop 142, which meets at St. James United Methodist Church (located off Bruce B. Downs {BBD} Blvd. in Tampa Palms). On May 13, Jackson completed and submitted his Eagle Scout project, entitled “NJ’s Love To The Rescue.”

According to the National Eagle Scout Association (NESA), today only about five percent of all Boy Scouts go on to become Eagles. To do so, a Scout has to earn 21 merit badges, as well as plan, develop and give leadership to others in a service project helpful to his religious institution, school or community.

Jackson says that, for his project, he raised money to donate an AED (automated external defibrillator) device and a First Aid kit to his school.

“As a competitive swimmer and student athlete, I’ve heard stories of other student athletes suddenly collapsing on the court or the field and being saved by AEDs,” Jackson explains. “Since I go to a private school (The Paideia School of Tampa Bay, located on N. 56th St. in Tampa), we don’t have the same funding as public schools, and I thought that our school should have one.”

Jackson has only been a Boy Scout for three years and says he is looking forward to his Eagle Scout ceremony this September. Although he already will have earned his Eagle Scout designation, he says that he plans to continue to help young scouts reach their Eagle goals. 


‘Spirit of Community’

Finishing his Eagle Scout project isn’t all Jackson has been up to lately. He also was recognized at the 20th annual Prudential “Spirit of Community” Awards ceremony, held May 3 at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC.

According to a May 4 press release, Jackson — along with 101 other youth volunteers from around the country — were honored on stage at with a $1,000 award, an engraved silver medallion and a personal “Congratulations” from “Good Morning America” co-anchor Robin Roberts. Each honoree also received an all-expense-paid trip to the ceremony.

Jackson was honored for his “Pajama Buddy Drab Bags,” a program that delivers stuffed animals to children in hospitals all over the world. So far, Jackson has delivered more than 4,000 stuffed animals and backpacks filled with supplies to hospitals in eight states, Germany and China to help ease the fear and loneliness that comes with being a hospitalized child.

It all started when Jackson needed surgery on his vocal cords in 2007. 

“On my way into the operating room, a nice nurse handed me a stuffed Clifford (the Big Red Dog) to hold onto to help calm my fear,” Jackson says. “It worked and everything went well!”

Another time, when he was hospitalized in Georgia from a football injury, Jackson says, his friend Bryce also was in the hospital. Jackson says he went to visit him, but only was allowed to wave at him through the window.

“You could just tell that he was really scared,” Jackson explains. “So, I was like, ‘Well, every kid should have something to help them get through these hard times.’ That’s what inspired Pajama Buddies.” 

So, Jackson decided to empty his piggy bank to buy his friend a stuffed animal.

Jackson told his mother LaShina that he would find a way to get a “buddy” to every kid who was without their real buddies.

“I feel that, in the hospital, when every kid is going through stress or sickness, that they should have some animal or friend to help get through their time (in the hospital),” Jackson explains. 

With help from the community, friends and family, Jackson has been able to raise money to purchase stuffed animals and backpacks that have been filled with e-readers, books, iPods, snacks and other gifts that he started delivering to the Shriner’s Hospital for Children (located on the University of South Florida’s Tampa campus). 

He also delivers blankets and other items to wounded soldiers and veterans at the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital (located off Bruce B. Downs [BBD] Blvd., across from USF) and has raised $1,500 to help cover the medical expenses of Hailey Bankhead, an Atlanta girl battling Wilm’s cancer (advanced kidney cancer). 

He also recently started another program, so far collecting and delivering 1,200 pairs of “kool sox” (colorful, fun socks) for a number of organizations, including the Children’s Home of East Tampa and the Joshua House in Lutz.

“I volunteer because I just love helping people,” Jackson explains. “When I see someone going through a hard time, I want to help them out as much as I can and make their stress go away as much as possible.”