Speech by Jody Morrison
This speech by Jody Morrison was given in 2002, during the “birthday letter” era when our volunteers were still school age and our “good deeds” were limited to donations to charities whose goals reflected the essence of Chelsea. Once our volunteers graduated from school and returned to New York we began designing good deeds of our own. Please read below to get to know about our beginnings.
Speech by Jody Morrison
to The Women’s Initiative Group of New York, CARE USA
November 1, 2002
With all of these visuals of beautiful children from around the world, I decided to bring a picture of my two children. This was taken in October of 1999.
My son Tommy is now 20 years old, in college, and president of the Chelsea Morrison Foundation. My daughter Chelsea died as a passenger in a car accident in January of 2000, one week before her 16th birthday.
She was adored by all who knew her, and it did not take her passing to be become aware of it. I received hundreds and hundreds of letters from kids who knew her. Ninety percent of them began, “I was not a close friend of Chelsea’s but…” and went on to tell a story of how Chelsea went out of her way to give them comfort in some way.
Each of these letters were written by people who believed they were offering to me their own special, unique moment when Chelsea was so kind to them. But they were a part of a larger whole. Their letters were read, and answered, and lovingly assembled with the hundreds of others and in that action they unknowingly became a part of one heart, suffering from the loss of such a kind and generous child.
The first holidays after Chelsea died, and probably running away from Christmas trees, Tommy took me to the tiny village of Pah Leurat in Thailand where, in happier days, he had spent eight weeks doing community service. Back then, he had become close to the Abbot of the monastery. In our suffering, seeking solace and answers, Tommy had the need to return, and he brought me with him. When we asked the Abbot, “How do we heal from this loss?” he offered, through translation, “Do good deeds in her name.”
Within three weeks of our return, Tommy and I began to set up the Chelsea Morrison Foundation. Chelsea’s birthday was coming up and we decided to send a letter on each of her birthdays, so that she would never be forgotten, and those who loved and missed her could donate, and with us, do good deeds in her name.
The response was overwhelming, and seemingly everlasting, for not only did the donations continue throughout the year, but so many people called or emailed or asked, “Hey, put me on Chelsea’s birthday list”, that our second mailing of February of this year was three times the first year.
With the Chelsea Morrison Foundation so generously funded, the assignment of the board became as precious as our love for her.
It is with great pride that Chelsea Morrison Foundation has joined hands with CARE in Afghanistan. CARE’s Fast Track Program addresses the needs of girls aged 9 to 14 years who received little or no education during the five years of Taliban rule. The program allows the girls to compensate for their lost schooling in an accelerated 18 month program to obtain the education level appropriate for them to join their peers and complete their studies at grade level in Kabul’s public schools.
Clearly, the image of young girls covered, hidden and refused the very environment that Chelsea flourished in, motivated our board to quickly commit to this program.
An even more moving effort that CARE presented to us was their ongoing program in Kosovo. CARE’s Support for Traumatized Children project counteracts the profound trauma that the Kosovo war inflicted on the children of that area. It was impossible for the staff at CARE to be aware of the deep satisfaction and level of commitment our board felt to participate in this program, for they had no way of knowing that when Chelsea was in forth grade, she had joined with her class to collect blankets and food for these very same children. It was the first humanitarian effort for these 10 year olds, and their pride was palpable, especially when they all came over on a Sunday morning to watch themselves on Nickelodeon’s Nick News. As a class, they read Zlata’s Diary: A child’s life in Sarajevo, a diary written by 11 year old Zlata who through her daily entries provided a child’s view of war that these American 10 year olds could both relate to and sympathize with. And with her friends, Chelsea attended her first book signing in New York City to meet young Zlata, and was photographed for the Los Angeles Times on March 15, 1994.
In our board’s review of CARE’s project in Kosovo, all of us became quite lost in the discussion with memories of Chelsea, her connection to these children, and her natural ability of compassion. But it was my son Tommy who brought us back to earth by announcing; “The Chelsea Morrison Foundation must participate in this project for these children of Kosovo, as it is clear to all of us that Chelsea began this effort while she was here with us. We must continue her efforts in her name.”
We have deep satisfaction in participating in both of these programs. The Chelsea Morrison Foundation would not have the opportunity to help any of these children, as directly as we feel we have, with out the global resources, established relationships and credibility of CARE. While it is our desire to “do good deeds in her name”, in order to reach these needy children in other countries, we have to partner with an organization like CARE that has the ability to translate our good intentions into actual deeds that change lives.
While it must be said that we are also very supportive of the Chelsea Morrison Center of Incarnation’s Children’s Center for children living with HIV here in New York City, the kids who donate to the birthday letter seem to connect most closely with these two CARE projects.
I have the privilege of these young people remaining in my life, and I have been so moved by their own personal satisfaction that they now have a vehicle to connect with these young girls in Afghanistan. They feel as if they know them. Through today’s media, the faces of the Afghanistan girls have been brought into the very same living room they share with friends and family.
Chelsea’s friends who donate $20, $100 or as one young lady promised, “half of my birthday money for the rest of my life”, have a true sense of pride in doing something solid. They trust that their donation is getting to their “friends” in Kosovo …for some of them, a friendship that began when they were just ten years old.
Now they are all in college, and I am able to witness a natural desire of these young adults to participate, to give back, to connect with and offer help to their less fortunate contemporaries. With these organized projects of CARE, these young adults can tuck their own dollars in an envelope on each of Chelsea’s birthdays, this year and into the future, and in a very concrete way, feel a true satisfaction that their gift of giving is extremely, and directly useful.
The Chelsea Morrison Foundation looks forward to the development of the Women’s Initiative project in Ghana. We feel responsible to prove out our promise we made in the second Birthday Letter sent just this year that ended with these words:
“We must rest in the knowledge that while Chelsea does not seem available to us in our daily lives, her gifts of kindness, enthusiasm and youthful charm, are now the virtues we pass along to others in her name. We give these children … the same that we would have wanted for her, the same that all children deserve: A FUTURE.”
To find out more or to become a sponsor of the organization or its events, please contact:
The Chelsea Morrison Foundation