Innovators and Influencers: Jessica Waters
Trident | December 9, 2016

Jessica Waters’, Kentucky, enterprising spirit, combined with her steadfast desire to help and serve others, led the college sophomore to found her own nonprofit when she was just 11 years old.

Cupcakes for Camp provides children and teens with epilepsy with the funds needed to attend a special summer camp. The cause is one that’s close to Jessica’s heart. Diagnosed with epilepsy a week before her 11th birthday, her time at Camp Flame Catcher was eye-opening. “When I was diagnosed, I was sad and upset that I wouldn’t be able to do the things other kids were doing — going to the pool, going to the mall.” At camp, Jessica met kids who had overcome their own struggles with epilepsy, and it inspired her.

She remembers the conversation she had with her mom on the way home from camp that summer: “I asked her, ‘How can I help other kids go to this camp? What can I do?’” Jessica knew the camp was expensive — she had received a scholarship to attend. Although only 11 at the time, Jessica was already a budding pastry chef, so she decided to put her talent to good use and host a bake sale to raise money. The first day, she raised $75, and Cupcakes for Camp was born.

Her efforts gained attention in her community, and soon local businesses were offering to donate their own baked goods. Cupcakes from Camp picked up from there and, since then, has raised more than $15,000, providing scholarships for more than 50 children to benefit from Camp Flame Catcher, as Jessica did.

Recently, Cupcakes for Camp received national attention when Jessica received the Stars of Service Award from the Corporation for National and Community Service and the President’s Volunteer Service Award Gold Medal. At the ceremony in Washington, D.C., Jessica had the opportunity to raise awareness about epilepsy on the national stage.

“It was important for me because through Cupcakes for Camp and even throughout college I’ve focused on raising awareness for epilepsy, and it gave me another group I could speak to about it,” says Jessica. “It was an honor to address these people in such high positions and who have such influence, and to enlighten them about what it’s like to be a child of epilepsy.”

Although Cupcakes for Camp has been a success, Jessica remembers a time when people were dismissive of it. “I encountered people who told me, ‘You’re just 11 years old. What are you going to do?’ But I think if I had given up then, I wouldn’t have continued working hard to help so many people.” The lesson she learned from that experience: “Never back down. If you have an idea for something you want to do, do it! Don’t let anyone say you can’t because if you’re passionate and willing, you can make it work at any cost.”

While Jessica continues to work to serve her community, she has also brought her firsthand philanthropic experience to Delta Rho Chapter in her role as assistant philanthropy chair.

“The work I’ve done Cupcakes for Camp has given me great hands-on experience — whether it’s reaching out to sponsors or planning events, I know what some of the challenges are and how to overcome them. It’s also made it so much easier for me to volunteer my time to the chapter — even if it’s staying at DHOP until 1:00 a.m. I know we’re making an incredible difference, even if we don’t always see the results right then.”

As an only child, Jessica always knew she wanted to join a sorority, but perhaps unsurprisingly, philanthropy was the main reason why she chose Tri Delta: she was drawn by the passion they felt for St. Jude and helping children. “Tri Delta stood out to me as women who were so passionate about St. Jude and the work they do — you could just feel it. Going through recruitment, I knew they loved their philanthropy, and I knew I wanted to dedicate my time to that. These were the type of women I wanted to aspire to be.”

Jessica says the one thing Tri Delta has provided is a support system. “If I walked into the chapter and said I want to do this event, I would have over 250 women saying, ‘What do you need?’ They inspire me every day to go and do better things because I see them doing amazing things in their own communities and on campus. They give me support and inspiration to continue being a better person, no matter what.”

Jessica’s love for philanthropy has also translated into her future career plans. The integrated strategic communications major hopes to one day work for a national nonprofit.

The young philanthropist attributes much of her desire to help others to how she was raised. Even as a child, she spent time volunteering at homeless shelters and animal shelters. “Ever since I was little I was taught that if you have the means to help someone or if you have the time to dedicate, you should be doing it. You helping someone else makes them more likely to help someone else…it’s a cycle.”

As for living her life with epilepsy, Jessica says there’s one thing she always wants people to know: “Just because someone has epilepsy doesn’t mean that epilepsy has us. It doesn’t mean we can’t do the things other people can — we just have to find imaginative ways to do them.”

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