Toyota of Rockwall Employee, Whose Daughter Has Cancer, Learns His Family Is Not Alone

by Dan Miller
Jan/Feb 2016
Toyota of Rockwall Employee, Whose Daughter Has Cancer, Learns His Family Is Not Alone
Never Ever Give Up
The Jessie Rees Foundation brought the Hogue family (Britnee top right, Justin bottom right) to Southern California on a special trip to inspire their 3-year-old daughter Raeleigh, who has a rare and aggressive form of cancer, to ‘Never Ever Give Up.” Coincidentally, the family was greeted by Jacky Ito-Smith (top left) and Soojie Kuroda (bottom left) of Toyota’s Los Angeles Region which supports the nonprofit.
Brittnee and Justin Hogue had known each other since high school. But it wasn’t until 2011—when Brittnee took a job in Toyota of Rockwall’s accounting office and she ran into Justin, a service advisor at the Texas dealership since 2009—that romantic sparks began to fly and they started down the path to marriage.
In early 2015, however, those happy days took a dark turn when their 3-year-old daughter Raeleigh was diagnosed with an extremely rare and aggressive form of cancer. Once again, their Toyota connection is playing a role in the young family’s life.
“It’s tough,” says Justin. “But the dealership has been very accommodating. And the owner (Steve Jackson) has been fabulous. He’s even offered to pray with me about it.”
The “it” is a malignant rhabdoid tumor that is compressing Raeleigh’s spine. Initially, it took away her ability to walk, among other basic bodily functions. Since then, emergency surgery, dozens of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, as well as six blood transfusions have begun to have a positive effect. But she still has a long way to go to tame the disease and resume life as a normal toddler.


Meanwhile, Brittnee quit her job to care for Raeleigh 24/7. Justin takes on extra shifts at the dealership to try to compensate for the loss of income. It’s a hard road for first-time parents in their mid-20s. But Brittnee’s decision to reach out to the Jessie Rees Foundation, a charitable organization founded by a 12-year-old girl who was determined to help others before she lost her fight with cancer, has helped them see they’re not alone.
That reality came into sharp focus when the family got to spend an all-expense-paid week of fun and relaxation in Southern California this summer, thanks to the generosity of the foundation.
“It was a dream trip, the absolute best,” says Brittnee. “Disneyland and Sea World lit up Raeleigh’s face. But I have to say, visiting the foundation at their ‘Joy Factory’ changed our lives. I don’t have words for it. I didn’t want to leave.”
“Joy” was Jessie Rees’ middle name. It also refers to her inspiration to create “JoyJars,” containers filled with goodies for children like her who found themselves constrained to a hospital bed. They’re a tangible way to convey her belief and, now, the foundation’s motto: Never Ever Give Up. The acronym, NEGU, and the jars have since spread across the nation and to more than 27 countries worldwide.
Purely by coincidence, Toyota’s Los Angeles Region is a neighbor and corporate sponsor of the foundation. It’s donated money, a Tundra lease and—more significantly—the volunteer help of Regional team members who collect items and spend community service hours stuffing the JoyJars. When the Hogues visited the foundation, Toyota representatives were on hand to greet them.
“That was awesome,” says Justin. “We had no idea Toyota was involved with the foundation.”
“It takes a big heart to be there for us like that,” says Brittnee. “It shows that they really do care.”
What does the future hold for this young family? Only time will tell.
“So far so good,” says Brittnee. “We are big believers here. God is bigger than cancer and is the ultimate healer. Just like Jessie, we’ll never ever give up.”
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