For kids in need, a gift of donated video game fun

posted Dec 25, 2014, 7:55 AM by Patrice Fletcher   [ updated Oct 21, 2015, 5:49 PM ]

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For kids in need, a gift of donated video game fun

By Hannah O. Brown
Staff writer
Published: Sunday, December 21, 2014 at 7:59 p.m.
Erica Brough/The Gainesville Sun
To honor their son, Joshua Joel Fletcher, Patrice Fletcher and her husband Ian Fletcher founded Joshua Joel SMA Life Inc. with the mission to accelerate the development of a treatment for Spinal Muscular Atrophy. They hosted their inaugural Give6 Video Games Drive to benefit underprivileged children during the holiday season, including gift recipient Ja'zae Ferguson, 7, admiring the presents with marketing coordinator Sara Ramadan, Sunday, December 21, 2014 during the video game drive gift-away party at Starter Space in Gainesville, Fla.

When Patrice Fletcher was told that her infant son had a rare genetic disease several years ago, she took action by spearheading a startup to fund research for his condition. Since that time, her mission has expanded to helping children in need across the community with a video game drive in honor of the holiday season.

A month after Joshua Joel Fletcher was born, issues began to surface.

“We noticed when he held his hand out, it would fall,” said Fletcher, president and CEO of the Joshua Joel Foundation.

At 1 month old, Fletcher's baby was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, a motor neuron disease where a missing or mutated gene restricts communication between neural activity in the brain and spine. The disease is considered the most common genetic cause of infant death.

“When you don't use these muscles, they become atrophied,” Fletcher said. 

Her son spent the first five months of his life in the hospital. When he went home, he was hooked up to a ventilator and bedridden. He was unable to move except for his eyes, and he never had the opportunity to speak.

“We took him to Sea World,” she said. “We took him to the aquarium. We tried to give him that quality of life.”

Joshua Joel Fletcher died on Oct. 12, 2013, at 5 years old.

While some researchers have explored the disease, a cure has yet to be found. Fletcher said the Joshua Joel Foundation's main mission is to raise funds for research on spinal muscular atrophy, but the organization also functions as a support system for children and families in need.

The foundation organized a video game drive for the holiday season, an event where underprivileged children in Alachua County were given gift-packs of donated game consoles and age-appropriate video games. The idea is to help enhance the quality of life of children who may otherwise go without, Fletcher said.

“One of the questions that our family was faced with when my son first went to the hospital is we had to make that quality of life decision,” she said. “While he was alive, we tried to do things to make his quality of life different.”

The gift of a video game console is something that Fletcher has heard many children ask for in community drives she has been involved with in the past, but the price makes it an often unrealistic option for many families who donate. Aside from their popularity, Fletcher said video games may have educational value as well.

“Kids who play video games, sometimes their hand-eye coordination has been increased,” she said. “They are playing outside sometimes, but most of the time they are in the house and they are not playing, because there is nothing for them to play with.”

Children's Home Society worked alongside the foundation for the drive, providing contacts with children in need and collecting video game equipment at the society's Family Treasures Thrift Shop at 710 N. Main St.

CHS Executive Director Jennifer Anchors said providing gifts to children who may otherwise go without can change their feelings about the entire holiday season.

“They go back to school and they are so excited because they have something they can share and talk about with their friends,” Anchors said. “It just breaks my heart to think there is a child out there who wouldn't get something. So we just want to make sure that doesn't happen to anyone we know, and that they are having a great holiday like we are.”

At the Give6 Gift-Away party at the Starter Space, 308 W. University Ave., on Sunday, 21 packages, for children between 3 and 16, were placed carefully under a cheerful tree. Children huddled around a table of crafts, bells and Christmas ornaments, peering out at groups of socializing adults. A deejay mixed familiar sound bites from Super Mario Brothers with holiday tunes.

About 16 community partners contributed to the drive, and signs of their involvement were clearly visible in the party space. A buffet of donated food from Southern Charm and Chipotle lined one wall. A tower of cupcakes crowned with Mario coins from Patticakes stood nearby. Jars of emerald green gummy bears, pearl-sized hard candies and multicolored candy canes provided by Williams & Co. Events decorated a table covered with snow-like foam.

Since all of the gifts were repurposed from other homes, Fletcher said the drive is meant to teach young children that they can make a difference in the lives of their peers. Fletcher's 13-year-old daughter Julia donated two consoles of her own.

“We are teaching kids to give,” she said. “If you start this early, we know that later on in life it will benefit them. You are giving back to your community, and somebody else is benefiting.

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