Late Sister Inspires Charitable Collett

By Nathan Rode
National Supervisor

T.J. CollettAt the 2014 Area Code Games, C T.J. Collett (Terre Haute North Vigo HS, IN) found the opportunity to do something big. He was an underclassman at a senior-laden event, playing in front of dozens of scouts with the chance to make an early impression as one of the top players in his class. But his most important work came off the field.

“I got invited to play at the Area Code Games as a 2016, which is cool by itself, and one day they chose the White Sox (Midwest) team to spend a day with five kids fighting cancer and their families, put on by the Jessie Rees Foundation,” Collett said. “I really connected with a couple families and got to spend the whole day and play baseball with them.”

The foundation’s namesake, Jessie Rees, fought two brain tumors for 10 months before passing on Jan. 5, 2012. While receiving treatment at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County in California, she was able to leave after her sessions. But she asked her parents about the kids that had to stay at the hospital and how she could help.

“One day her parents went out for dinner and came back and she had packaged all of her own toys and candy into little plastic bags, wanting to give them to those little kids,” Collett said. “So now, the Jessie Rees Foundation brings out Joy Jars, which are jars filled with candy and toys. They send them out to more than 200 hospitals across the world including ones in Indiana.”

Rees’ personal motto, “never ever give up,” lives on in NEGU. Collett wanted to do more and contacted people with the foundation to see how he could help from Indiana. They exchanged some ideas and last winter Collett put on an event called Santa Stroll. People participated in a Christmas tree decorating contest for a prize and helped raise money for NEGU. Collett’s efforts brought in more than $1,500 that would be used to put together Joy Jars, which cost $20 each to produce. He hopes to make it a bigger event next year, having people run a mile or 5K.

Collett’s compassion and charity isn’t just a random act of kindness. It stems from watching a loved one battle illness and ultimately pass. His sister, Jackie, was born with the umbilical cord around her neck, which led to brain complications and cerebral palsy. Jackie died in 2004 at the age of nine. Collett was just seven.

“I know what it’s like to have a family member hurting,” he said. “I know that little things like a Joy Jar really change the morale and mood of a family, which encourages them to keep on fighting. It really does.”

His sister’s bravery through it all has inspired Collett’s charity, but also his drive in baseball. The way he sees it, the bigger the name he makes for himself, the more he can spread the word about children fighting cancer.

“Because of baseball and fall ball, I only have time for stuff in the winter, which I feel bad about,” he said. “But I think if I focus on baseball and get good, I can make an even bigger difference. That’s a part of my goal.

“When I got into seventh or eighth grade and started getting really serious, I honestly think I got my drive to get better and to fight for what I want from my sister. When she was born, she wasn’t supposed to live for more than a couple days and she ended up living for nine years. If she can do that, why can’t I be a major league baseball player? Why can’t I fight as hard as I can? If I do, I think I can succeed in my goal.”

A Kentucky recruit, Collett certainly is making a name for himself. He has a power bat from the left side and is becoming one of the better offensive players in the 2016 class. With increased interest in draft coverage and prospects, Collett knows his name is out there and he wants to make sure he’s doing everything in his power to keep it positive and promote a good cause.

“I’m just doing what I know is right and is going to help someone else,” he said. “I know that I’m blessed with a great life and those kids would give their right arm to be in my position. So I’m going to do as much as I can to make them feel as important as I do.”

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