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Community & Business

2 August, 2022

Looking back on 20 years of Jeans for Genes Day

From the humble beginnings of a small table and chair outside 3D’s Butchery, Jenny Johnston began fundraising for Jeans for Genes (J4G) when she noticed its presence missing in Gilgandra.

By Emily Middleton

Now going into her 21st year running J4G in town, Ms Johnston thinks it’s about time to reflect on 20 years of hard work and community spirit.

“I have always supported J4G day. In 2001 I walked into Target wearing my jeans to buy a badge, only to be told they no longer sold them,” said Ms Johnston.

“The next year I decided to start fundraising for the Children’s Medical Research Institute by organising a community J4G day.”

Beginning in 2002, the late Wes Morris (Dooga) and Jeffery Irvin (Bulldog) were Ms Johnston’s number one supporters.

“They would always let me sit outside their shop, for over 10 years I did that. And they would always support me in any way they could,” said Ms Johnston.

“They have both passed away from cancer recently. We all know someone who has passed away or has been affected by cancer, and cancer is a genetic disease.”

It began with the selling of badges, explained Ms Johnston, before it became all sorts of other merchandise. In that first year of what would be two decades, $1300 was raised from the community.

“This was an outstanding effort for the first year, especially since we were only selling badges!” exclaimed Ms Johnston.

As recognition of J4G in the community grew, so did sales, support, and generosity. People became more aware of the charity and what it supported, and each year the community dug a little deeper into their pockets and in ways of helping.

2008 marked a special year for Ms Johnston, as it was the one year, out of the 20 so far, she wasn’t able to make it on J4G day in Gilgandra.

“Garry (my husband) was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. Lisa White, the wife of the printer at The Gilgandra Weekly stepped in to run the J4G day while I was away with my husband having treatment at RPA,” said Ms Johnston.

Without that act of kindness and commitment, J4G day in Gilgandra may not be where it is today.

It was in 2012 that Esmae and Neville Toll came on board the J4G bus, and started selling what they could inside IGA, in prime position. 11 years on and the dedicated couple and significant helpers along the way have become a staple on J4G day each year. A wave or a smile has always greeted you at IGA on J4G day, and Ms Johnston is grateful for the continuous support.

This support has significantly grown over the years, and Ms Johnston is overwhelmed with the amount of love individuals have given to her and the charity along the way. This includes Ms Johnston’s family, who have been by her side since the very beginning.

“They have helped me every step of the way, running stalls, raffles at Cooee, always helping me in any way they can,” said Ms Johnston.

Dooga and Bulldog let Ms Johnston stay outside 3D’s Butchery for 15-years. This was until Lynette Ridges came on board in 2017, and started cooking cupcakes to create a proper J4G stall.

“Lynette started cooking cupcakes to sell, and Helen Oates organised it all. Without those two I would have never gone into the kiosk, and I would never have progressed to where the fundraiser is today,” said Ms Johnston.

One-in-21 children are born with a genetic disease or birth defect, and 2017 is the year that it really hit hard in Gilgandra. This was the year that Laura and Damien Jordan had their second child Bridie, who was born with an extremely rare genetic syndrome.

“Bridie has Mainzer-Saldino Syndrome (MSS) which affects bone growth and also caused her to have craniosynostosis,” Mrs Jordan told The Gilgandra Weekly in 2019.

As quoted: “parts of Bridie’s skull were fused together, which mean there was not enough room for her brain to grow inside her skull. Bridie underwent two surgeries as an infant to allow her brain and skull to grow”.

At the time, Aussie Kindies centre manager Veronica Sutherland said they were now learning keyword signing in order to communicate more with Bridie. This was such an incredible milestone for the Gilgandra community, and there have since been children able to communicate with more ease following the introduction of keyword signing.

“Telling Bridie’s story helped us highlight children’s genetic diseases, and raised the awareness of what J4G day is all about,” said Ms Johnston.

In 2018, Ms Johnston’s hard work was recognised, after she made the Children’s Medical Research Centre (CMRC) honour wall. This was recognised again in 2020, after Ms Johnston raised her record total to that point was $10,000.

“I really want you to know how grateful we are for your tireless efforts year after year, and the community that supports your work, even when faced with the challenges of restrictions due to COVID-19,” wrote CMRC’s director of fundraising Robert Wynn in a letter to Ms Johnston.

“I can’t actually put into words how much it has meant to us. We did expect that fundraising was going to be hard this year (2020), especially in certain areas. “Mrs Johnston has always tried to better the last year’s sales and she’s succeeded in that.”

Reflecting on the past 20 years, Ms Johnston laughed at the fact J4G has had “a lot of new record headlines”, referring to The Gilgandra Weekly’s ‘record breaking’ coverage each year.

“We’ve always wanted to do more than we had the year before, and we almost always did,” she said.

Ms Johnston’s place of work, Gilgandra Motors, have always supported J4G in any way they can.

“The boys have always supported me through the years, and I am very grateful” said Ms Johnston.

Bringing it back to the present day, Ms Johnston has been collecting bottle and can recycling from anyone willing to donate over the past few months. Just from community events such as Night Under the Gums, the speedway, the footy club, and personal donations, Ms Johnston has raised over $4000, and J4G Day hasn’t even happened yet!

As the communities J4G effort evolves, and fundraising efforts reach higher and higher goals, Ms Johnston wants to thank every single business that has ever sold her badges, chocolates, made donations, or supported her in some way.

“St Joseph’s Primary School has supported J4G since it’s humble beginnings in Gilgandra. While the fundraiser started simply down the street, it was St Joey’s that got the children involved 20 years ago, educating them on genetic diseases and the mission of J4G.

“The schools have educated a generation of children on J4G, and genetic diseases.

“They have encouraged the students to participate and understand the cause, they have been amazing support since the beginning.”

As the campaign grew, the other schools also came on board, continuing to spread awareness of the fundraisers’ incredible cause. Ms Johnston is humbled by the achievements reached as a community, and wants to remind people of why she started J4G in Gilgandra to begin with.

“My sister Robyn was born with a brain disorder, and seeing other children with different disabilities and childhood diseases, I knew this was the organisation I wanted to support. Their focus is on research and their scientists are world renowned.”

From the humble beginnings in 2002 raising $1300, to 20 years on raising $11,540 in 2021, the possibilities of this year’s efforts are endless. A total of $79,000 has been raised over the past 20 years in Gilgandra alone, and Ms Johnston is excited to see where the community can go this year.

“Bring on Jeans 4 Genes Day this year!”

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