Ja’ has served in the U.S. Army for 19 years and is currently a behavioral health soldier at the U.S. Army Health Clinic- Schofield Barracks where he oversees 10 behavioral health departments.
A humble man with a passion for giving back, Ja’s dedication to serving his community extends beyond his military career and into the lives of children with critical illnesses.
Ja’ has already granted three wishes and has participated in a number of fundraisers to benefit local children since becoming a volunteer and wish granter with Make-A-Wish® Hawaii in 2016.
Ja’ was originally introduced to the Make-A-Wish mission through a fellow soldier-turned-wish granter, and he hasn’t looked back. Some days after leaving work, he heads to the hospital to visit his wish kids. Other times, he takes them to the park or watches a Disney movie with them. For Ja’, it’s all about the little moments and “just putting a smile on their face.”
“All the kids that I’ve worked with are tough as nails, super strong,” he said. “Watching the families get the news that their kids are doing better or that their wish is coming true is a big sigh of relief and so rewarding.”
Ja’ recently worked to grant 9-year-old Ella’s wish to go to Disney World, which was revealed with the help of the University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors Baseball team on March 4. Ja’ joined Ella and her family on the field during the announcement that her wish was coming true.
“Ella just had a brain operation, and she’s already up and walking,” said Ja’. “And now she’s going to Disney World.”
Aside from his love of working with children, Ja’ also cites working with the Make-A-Wish Hawaii team as part of what makes his volunteerism a “dream job.” “There’s such a level of camaraderie,” he said. “I’ll bend over backwards for every one of those staff members.”
The appreciation for Ja’ is certainly mutual. “Ja’ always puts his whole heart into volunteering for us, whether he is helping out at events or serving our keiki as a wish granter,” said Make-A-Wish Hawaii Volunteer Outreach Manager Will Phelps. “I am so grateful for his can-do attitude!”
In addition to his work for Make-A-Wish, Ja’ also volunteers his time for the military’s Drunk Driving Prevention Program (DDPP), which aims to prevent service members and their families from driving under the influence by giving them rides home. “The concept is to prevent people from hurting themselves, hurting someone else, or hurting their careers,” explained Ja’. Since beginning his work with the Hawaii chapter of the program last March, Ja’ has already accrued more than 550 volunteer hours toward the cause.
Ja’s extraordinary ability to juggle a full-time military career with his extensive volunteer work has earned him recognition here on Oahu and beyond. In September 2017, Ja’ was presented with the Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Inspirational Military Leadership Award by the Honolulu-Hawaii branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for his work with Make-A-Wish Hawaii and the DDPP. Ja’ was among a handful of service members throughout the Pacific region who were recognized for their leadership.
Having been nominated for the award by a colleague, Ja’ was taken aback by the appreciation for his work. “It was humbling for me,” he said. “I certainly don’t do anything to receive any accolades, but I was so happy that people recognized that there are others out there trying to do good.”
For Ja’, who has been volunteering since high school, the importance of community service is immeasurable: “It’s important to volunteer because truly giving back and not wanting something in return is such a reward within itself.”