The Jenna Kast Believe in Miracles Foundation has earned its namesake, as it has brought miracles to the lives of 66 children across Michigan.
Founded by two 11-year-old boys in 2005, one of those co-founders is now one of Central Michigan University’s own, J.D. Sterba.
Sterba, along with co-founder Brett Kast, were close friends throughout elementary school. In 2002, Kast’s younger sister, Jenna, was diagnosed with an ependymoma brain tumor. She was only three years old.
Believe in Miracles was born out of the battle Jenna fought against the brain cancer. According to Sterba, Kast would accompany his sister to the Detroit Children’s Hospital during her treatments.
“He saw a lot of suffering,” the Troy sophomore said. “Even though it was designed to be a happy place for the kids, he still saw a lot of suffering.”
On more than one occasion, Kast took notice of one specific boy being treated at the children’s hospital. Moved with compassion, the next time Kast visited the hospital he brought his Game Boy to give to the boy. The boy’s face lit up with a huge smile.
That was all the encouragement Kast and Sterba needed. The two, then-fifth graders, devised a plan to grant another wish to a different patient at the children’s hospital.
During that time, yellow Livestrong bracelets were a big hit nationally. Kast and Sterba modeled a fundraiser off the same idea, and with the help of their parents, designed bracelets to sell around their school and community. The idea was to raise just a little bit of money in order to buy a gift for a suffering child and see that smile that Kast had witnessed when he gave away his Game Boy.
The bracelets were a huge success. As word spread about the fundraiser, a Detroit news station featured the boys and their progress. After the airing, donations soared.
“We started getting donations from all over Detroit,” Sterba said.
It was at that point the Kast family founded the Believe in Miracles Foundation. The first “trophy winner,” as the foundation calls them, was a 10-year-old boy named Andrew. Kast and Sterba gave him a video camera.
Since then, the foundation has put a smile on the faces of 65 more recipients. Sterba said one of his favorite “miracles” was given to a six-year-old boy named Reginald in 2005. Suffering from a rare and painful form of cancer, Reginald shared a twin size bed with his 16-year-old brother. Sharing a bed in his condition was extremely painful and difficult for Reginald, so Kast and Sterba bought a complete bedroom set for the boy. They also gave him a laptop and DVDs for passing the time when he was at the hospital.
The Believe in Miracles Foundation continues to bring joy to suffering children across the state. Miracles range from the installation of a new hot tub, to meeting a favorite sports team.
“We have helped 66 kids so far,” Kast said. “Eighteen of those have been this year, and we are currently working on 12 more right now.”
Kast is a sophomore at Michigan State University. Both he and Sterba have worked extensively for Believe in Miracles since arriving at college. They also work closely with the Greek community to help fundraise for their organization.
“My fraternity, Delta Sigma Phi, has helped tremendously with fundraising events,” he said. “A lot of our philanthropy goes to (Believe in Miracles).”
During Greek Week last spring, the CMU Greek community raised more than $22,000 for the foundation.
Jenna was not able to see the most recent successes of the foundation. In 2010, after eight years of treatment and therapy, she lost her battle against brain cancer.
Kast and his family, especially his mother, have found solace in the organization left to carry on Jenna’s legacy.
“Seeing how happy (my mom) is every single day is something I truly cherish,” Kast said. “Believe in Miracles helps bring understanding to Jenna’s passing. My mom just loves helping others and this is the perfect way to do so.”
Sterba recalled how much Jenna also loved every part of the organization, and how she participated in fundraising and granting wishes to the trophy winners.
“She loved everything about Believe in Miracles,” Sterba said. “She loved the wishes, she loved meeting the different kids and loved making friends with them. She was so happy and so proud.”
Kast knows Jenna would have had an active part in the organization if she was still alive.
“If she was here to see how much it’s grown, she would be ecstatic,” Kast said. “And seeing that she would be in high school now, she would probably have an active part in our operation.
“I would let her know that everything she went through was for a reason, and I know she would look at all the kids she’s helped and just smile,” he said.