Joey Roth has always had a knack for finding change, his mother, Deborah Sternberg, said as she watched Joey and his older brother Charlie count piles of it on the floor of Sternberg’s bedroom.
Charlie immediately tells her about finding change under a parked bus, which brings a look of minor panic to his mother’s face.
“Please tell me you didn’t go under a bus to pick up change,” she said, but Charlie smiles, tells her it was parked, and then recounts the time Joey stuck his hand in a grate to get a dollar bill he saw.
“And I got it, too,” Joey said.
Sternberg shakes her head in disbelief, but her pride still shines through.
At the tender age of 7, Joey has started a charity, J.A.R. for Change — his full name is Joey Aidan Roth — distributed J.A.R. for Change jars to his school and several area restaurants and businesses and delivered a check for $5,000 to Woman’s Hospital.
To this day, Sternberg has no idea what started Joey on this track.
“When he found change, I always encouraged him to put it in his piggy bank and save it for college,” she said. Then one day, she noticed a separate jar in his room, slowly filling with change. When she asked Joey about it, he told her he’d decided the money he found wasn’t meant for him, so he was saving it for sick babies.
“We’ve always made philanthropy a part of our family, and he was born at Woman’s, but not prematurely,” Sternberg said. “Both he and his brother love babies. When they see a baby, they’re all about it. We’ve talked about it, and he can’t remember where he got the idea the specific idea to help sick babies.”
She thought it was a phase and that he would eventually get distracted by something else.
Instead, he started asking other people for their change, starting with his family.
If everyone just saved the change in their pockets and put it in a jar, he told his mom, they could change the world.
So, they sat down together and came up with a means — jars to be placed in different stores — and a name — J.A.R. for Change.
Change to change the world appealed to Joey, as did the fact that his initials spelled out the means of collection.
Cute only gets you so far
To encourage her son’s passion about his idea, Sternberg introduced her son to store managers she knew personally.
“I opened the doors, but he had to do the talking,” she said. “We started off in the places we shopped every week.”
He’d tell the managers about his idea, and more often than not, he got an enthusiastic yes.
Eventually, he started a Facebook page and gave presentations on his idea, first to his own school, Episcopal, then to Woman’s Hospital, which developed into something even bigger than his own charity.
Joey doesn’t insist that people collect change for his cause. His page provides templates so that anyone can create their own J.A.R. for Change for their own cause.
These days, the family buys plastic jars 50 at a time, and they still get plenty of jars they’ve handed out returned to them full of change.
But, while he has no way of knowing how many people have taken him up on his idea, his goal is to change the way people think about giving back — not in a mindless way, tossing leftover change into a bin at the grocery store counter, but by creating something to collect change for a cause that’s meaningful to them.
And Joey’s way isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
“What impressed me most about this young man is that not everyone has said yes,” said Beverly Brooks Thompson, chief development officer with Woman’s Foundation.
“People have told him that they can’t put his jars out because it doesn’t fit with how their business operates, but he doesn’t stop.”
It only happened once, Sternberg confirmed, and Joey was surprised by it at first, but he learned from the experience.
“Little things add up,” Sternberg said, and she means that when she says it.
More than a year later, his jars collect so much change that they’ve stopped counting it and started weighing it.
As of his eighth year of life, Joey, who also partnered with Raising Cane’s for Giving Tuesday — a portion of the restaurant’s proceeds on Dec. 2 went to J.A.R. for Change — has raised about $7,000 for Woman’s.
He delivered his first check for $5,000 to Woman’s in the fall, where it paid for a brand new program called Joey Time, Thompson said.
As the only hospital in Louisiana with a Level III Newborn and Infant Intensive Care Unit, Woman’s Hospital takes care of the smallest premature babies, the sickest babies and, because it gets cases from lower level NICUs across the state, the babies farthest from home.
Physical presence isn’t always possible due to illness in either mother or baby or the impracticalities of distance and travel expense for what can be long hospital stays.
Joey Time allows parents to schedule two-way video calls with their infants and their care teams using iPads and Apple’s FaceTime software.
Woman’s began testing Joey Time within the hospital in September.
“Some of our patients will stay with us long-term, for a year or more, and have to go back home for work or to care for their other children,” Thompson said.
In addition to getting a chance to stay in the loop with their baby’s care and ask questions, Thompson said, it allows parents to see and hear their babies and vice versa.
While the program was tested in-house only for the first phase, for mothers who are in the adult intensive care unit and babies in the NICU, Thomspon said it was a resounding success and will be expanded to parents outside the hospital.
The lines are secure and the technology is paid for by the program so there’s no additional expense on parents, she said. It is a valuable service that they’ve been hoping to add for some time, and Thompson couldn’t be happier to have J.A.R for Change as a partner.
“As a person who raises funds for a living, I can tell you it’s not comfortable to challenge people to give, and to ask people for money,” Thompson said.
For information on J.A.R. for Change, visit www.jar4change.org
Roth also was named the 2014 Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy by the Association of Fundraising Professionals Greater Baton Rouge Chapter.