Cover Story: JJ Wales Celebrates 20 Years with Neediest Kids of All

Thousands of Local Children Receive Help

By Julie Isphording

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  • This student can do the math - the total amount distributed by NKOA to help the children over the last 10 years: $4,523,820.90. This student can do the math - the total amount distributed by NKOA to help the children over the last 10 years: $4,523,820.90.
  • Some of the children benefitting from NKOA - Total funds raised since 1952 ‑  $21,809,455 Some of the children benefitting from NKOA - Total funds raised since 1952 ‑ $21,809,455
  • Ross Wales, Emilia Wales 2, J.J. Wales, Adeline Wales 4 Ross Wales, Emilia Wales 2, J.J. Wales, Adeline Wales 4
  • Wesley Wales 8, Elliot Wales 10, Jameson Wales 6, with J.J. Wales (or Jee Jee, as they call her!) Wesley Wales 8, Elliot Wales 10, Jameson Wales 6, with J.J. Wales (or Jee Jee, as they call her!)
  • J.J. Wales and husband Ross Wales J.J. Wales and husband Ross Wales
     

JJ Wales of Hyde Park is whip-smart, deeply honest, very brave, amazingly optimistic and fearless. As a community advocate and executive director of the Neediest Kids of All (NKOA), she has dedicated her life to raising thousands of dollars to help provide the basic necessities for local area children. “For 20 years her efforts have helped thousands of children go to school with shoes on their feet, a nice uniform, eyeglasses and even underwear,” said Board President Chuck Fredrick from iHeartMedia.

JJ Wales has seen the childhood poverty continue to escalate over the past 20 years of her career.

“It’s hard to imagine that local children don’t even have decent shoes to wear to school,” Wales explained. “But the childhood poverty level is so overwhelming at times it’s hard to imagine.”

Sometimes the numbers just don’t explain the need, but the stories do. JJ told a story about a young child who arrived at school in pink slippers and his mom’s robe. She explained the child desperately wanted to come to school to be with his friends and teacher and get a warm meal. He risked the embarrassment of wearing pink slippers.

“Most children just want to look like everyone else…to hide their poverty,” Wales said. “Neediest Kids of All works with the schools to help make that a reality.”

JJ Wales has thousands of stories like this, and tomorrow will bring even more. She is only the second executive director of the Neediest Kids of All, which started in 1952 with a simple and effective plan - work closely with the schools (over 700 to date) and Head Start sites (17 counties) in the Tri-state area. 

I interviewed JJ. She wore her exuberance on her sleeve, on her arm, in her eyes- - expressive head to toe. She’s clearly the right person at the right place at the right time!

JJ Wales in her own words:

As the Executive Director of NKOA what has been driving you for 20 years?
All children deserve to live happy and healthy lives. If we can work to make the world better for local children by providing the basic needs, then we are doing meaningful work. That’s why my job is so wonderful. It’s the real deal.

NKOA is one of Cincinnati’s most impactful non-profits, why has it been so successful?
We work on a grass-roots level directly with 700 schools and Head Start sites in 17 counties in the Tri-state area. We provide the funds to the individual schools, and the school personnel determine the need for each child. They have the direct daily contact so their role is pivotal in saving and improving children’s lives by providing them with services that others may take for granted—clothing, shoes, eyeglasses, underwear, to name a few.  

Do you actually see the impact of your work?
Yes. When I visit the schools, I see the children dressed in their uniforms like everyone else—with a proud smile. I hear it in the voices of teachers and school nurses--my ground team--when they tell me stories of where the money was used. I watch the progress from afar, but closely.

What surprises you about the extent of childhood poverty in Cincinnati?
Jon Lawhead, one of our Board members from Local 12, described it best when Local 12 began their extensive stories on childhood poverty. He said the need will always be there and we will always be trying to keep up. It truly is something we all have to work on everyday together.

Neediest Kids of All is just a small part of a huge issue facing our City. What prepared you for this work?
I do not think you can really be prepared, but I have had a full life as a community volunteer, a mother, a teacher, President of Junior League, President of Kappa Kappa Gama, and now a grandma. That blend and my love of children and Cincinnati, has really made a difference.

What do you want people to know?
One person and $1 can make a difference. It is recognizing the power of giving and that it is not measured by how financially well off you are, but by the wealth of your heart – and that is something we all have potential to grow.

Looking back at your life, is there any advice you would give to children today?
Smile more. Don’t take life too seriously. Yes, the pressure will find you, but don’t go looking for it.

If you had one hour to spend with any woman anywhere, who would it be?
My mom.

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
What a great question. I dream of a kinder world in which we had no childhood poverty.

Can you answer this one - I wish I had more time for...
Playing with my grandchildren and playing more golf.

Neediest Kids of All Facts:
Total amount raised this year: $1,307,088.18 which includes the largest bequest ever received by NKOA: $85,000.
Totals funds raised since 1952 -  $21,809,455
Total amount distributed to help the children over the last 10 years: $4,523,820.90.
Number of children helped over the last 10 years: 124,140
Number of items purchased over the last 10 years: 267,931
Over 700 schools and Head Start sites in 17 counties in the Tri-state area. 
1997 flooding: NKOA raised $175,000 for affected areas. In 2012, $60,000 was raised to help children impacted by the tornadoes.
You can donate or find out more about Neediest Kids of All online: www.neediestkidsofall.com

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