ʹSuper exuberant’ friend pulls in $5,000 for asthma charity
Le-Jai Simmons’s “super exuberant” personality drew people in.
It’s one of the many wonderful things that Je-Shae Pace remembers about the friend she lost two years ago as a result of complications due to asthma.
As such, she couldn’t say no when Leslita Simmons said she wanted her help to organise “something really special” for what would have been her daughter’s 30th birthday.
“[Asthma] is a serious illness but it’s one of those ones where you have it and it’s so common that it has the potential to be underestimated,” said Je-Shae, who met Le-Jai at the age of four when they started at Elliot Primary School.
“Within the first year of her passing we threw a party in her name. Although the party had a great turnout and was a great success – also in terms of raising money – her mom just wanted to do something that she felt was more fitting, especially for the nature of her passing.”
It was decided to hold a walkathon and give any funds raised to Open Airways, which is dedicated to “improving the health and wellbeing” of the 8,000 people with “asthma and other long-term breathing difficulties” in Bermuda.
The charity provides free one-on-one consultations for anyone in need; its medication assistance programme enables people who are "unemployed, uninsured or underinsured", to get the necessary treatment for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Said Je-Shae: “I am honoured that [her mom] considered me the person that could make it happen for her. We want to ensure that Le-Jai’s memory lives on and has a positive impact on, not only the loved ones that she left behind, but also those in our community that suffer or live with asthma.”
That Le-Jai would have celebrated a milestone made everyone particularly eager to do something this year.
“We reached out to Open Airways and told them, essentially, what the plan was and asked if they would be willing to be affiliated with the event and it kind of just grew from there,” Je-Shae said. “It was originally planned to be held on her birthday back in April [but] with Covid and everything else, we had to postpone it indefinitely.
"The anniversary of her passing was October 10 so, once all the restrictions started to lift, her mom was like, 'I think you can go ahead and try to do this for the 11th.“
The 3K walk started and ended at Bernard Park. Everyone who participated received a commemorative bag.
Both she and Le-Jai’s family “truly appreciated” the help that came from Butterfield & Vallis, Open Airways Bermuda, Legends Barbershop, Just Dreams Decor “and all the participants, volunteers and contributors on the day of the event”, Je-Shae added.
She said: “The turnout was much more than what we anticipated. It was almost overwhelming. Because the thought to reschedule was kind of last minute, I feared we might not get the numbers we were looking for … But it was amazing.”
Although donations are still coming in, it’s anticipated that Open Airways will receive approximately $5,000 from the event.
Je-Shae attributes it to the power of her friend’s personality.
“She was the life of any and every setting that she was in. She was super, super exuberant. Always just full of life, full of spunk, unapologetic, definitely somebody who you went to when you needed authenticity. She was genuine from the time I met her to the time of her passing.”
Although “best friends all through primary school” the pair attended different middle and high schools. As a result, their “paths separated a little bit”.
“But after high school we came back and just clicked back in. We definitely had a crazy bond,” Je-Shae said. “She was just a super reliable friend who I could always go to and I know, even in the years that we didn’t speak there was never a question as to whether we were still friends or anything like that. Sometimes I feel like with friendships and relationships they can take a lot of work, a lot of effort. Being her friend was effortless.”
With the blessing of Le-Jai’s family the walkathon will become an annual event, with Open Airways the beneficiary.
“I just think it’s one of those illnesses and one of those charities that can kind of sneak under the radar and I want to make sure that we can kind of move to promote prevention rather than reaction,” Je-Shae added.
Make a donation to Open Airways in honour of Le-Jai Simmons through Butterfield Bank: 20 006 060 293210 100. Please write ‘LeJai Walkathon’ in the memo.
For more information about Open Airways: 232-0264; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com