Teachers’ hearts expand with every class, but Jenn Valenti’s expanded even more when she taught Sammy Garcia, whom she refers to as her “third child.” When Sammy was in second grade, Jenn was finishing up treatment for breast cancer, specifically ER/PR positive, HER2-negative invasive ductal carcinoma. Sammy was in Jenn’s special skills class at Academy Street Elementary School in Dover, New Jersey, and her own mother Dora was undergoing treatment for the very same diagnosis.
Dora Ceballos had been diagnosed with breast cancer while she was pregnant with Sammy, whom she and husband Andres Garcia called their miracle baby. Dora’s cancer was stage four right off the bat. Jenn was far luckier and has been cleared as having no evidence of disease.
Knowing how hard her diagnosis had been on her own family–husband Mike, son Jack, and daughter Emma–Jenn felt compelled to help others in similar situations, especially when they were in her very own classroom. Not only was Sammy dealing with the very same things Jenn’s daughter Emma had dealt with, but another student in the special skills class also had a mother at home with cancer. Jenn began researching resources for families like theirs, and one click led to another. Before she knew it, she had landed on the homepage for Inheritance of Hope (IoH).
Jenn knew both Sammy’s family and her student Brian’s family could greatly benefit from the community and care provided by IoH. At the time, she had no idea how much she would as well. That was back In 2018.
Jenn Valenti (center) with Andres and Sammy Garcia
Because her breast cancer is not terminal, Jenn does not qualify for IoH programming, but that didn’t stop her from coming–as a volunteer. And, from sticking around. Now Jenn is a Family Navigator, helping diagnosed parents, their caregivers, and their children access various services through IoH, “My own cancer diagnosis gave me the platform to provide help, resources, and reach out to other families in need who are on a similar but different journey. I never would have found IoH if not for my own diagnosis. It gave me a different purpose in life. My cancer has been a gift since I have become involved in IoH.”
Following that year in the special skills class, Sammy, Brian, and Jenn all ended up in the same third grade classroom. It was a big year. They rallied the entire elementary school around them to fundraise for other cancer patients. Then, the class prepared chemo care packages that were delivered to the oncology practice where both Jenn and Dora received care. In the spring, Brian’s family attended an IoH Legacy Retreat® to Orlando.
Although Sammy’s mom Dora passed away before their family retreat, Sammy and her Dad went on a unique IoH retreat, where they met other caregivers and children who had suffered a loss. Jenn was their volunteer, and shares that there is only one way to describe their relationship, “They are just like a second family. They felt like my family beforehand, but after IoH was brought into the picture, it is on a deeper level.”
Emma Valenti and Sammy Garcia hanging out after a trampoline park excursion.
Just like in any family, the Valentis and Garcias have special traditions. Emma and Sammy like to swim together, get ice cream together, and TikTok together. But their friendship goes further than just fun–the preteens also give back. Each October, Emma and Sammy help Jenn continue the work that first began in Jenn’s classroom by delivering a little love to oncology patients. They pack goody bags filled with candy, lotion, fuzzy socks, coloring books and other things Jenn would have enjoyed while going through treatment. They also add a little swag, in the form of a piece of jewelry donated by Kendra Scott.
Jenn first got to know Samantha Savino, the Store Manager of Kendra Scott at Short Hills Mall, through Holley Day, which will be held this year on October 13th. Holley Day is the annual event honoring Kendra Scott’s dear friend Holley Rothell Kitchen. Holley and her family attended an IoH Legacy Retreat® before Holley’s life was cut short by metastatic breast cancer. On Holley Day, Kendra Scott donates 20% of all sales company-wide to IoH.
Kendra Scott stores across the country celebrate with special events, and the store at Short Hills Mall, where Sammy Garcia and Emma Valenti help host Holley Day, may be the most festive.
All in a day’s work: Emma and Sammy get the importance of knowing your product.
Emma and Sammy lure the customers in, sometimes with a little unintended false advertising. “They might accidentally say 20% off instead of 20% goes to IoH!” Jenn says with a laugh. Kendra Scott management doesn’t seem to mind, and in fact has asked if the girls would be interested in jobs when they are a little older. Emma explains that she and Sammy usually write a script beforehand to guide their sales pitch.
Serving customers snacks, helping with Color Bar™ creations, and of course, trying on lots and lots of jewelry are all part of Holley Day for these two. Plus, maybe a special gift courtesy of their friends at the store, “My favorite jewelry is a pink rose quartz necklace I made at the Color Bar™ and a silver iridescent heart my mom surprised us with. I usually wear a necklace every day,” says Emma. After the store closes, Jenn takes the girls to dinner, but not before a little post-celebratory TikTok dancing that the whole store gets in on.
Samantha Savino emphasizes just how much Sammy and Emma contribute to the event, “Their part is so huge. They are not shy and so driven. They stand outside the doors, hand out pamphlets, talk about what Kendra is doing, make a piece of jewelry from the Color Bar™, and show off what they made.”
IoH supporters and former-families-served celebrate Holley Day with staff and customers at the Kendra Scott store at Short Hills Mall. From left to right: Rebecca Dix , Samantha Savino, Emma Valenti, Jacey Lawler, Sammy Garcia, Anna Conti, Nicole Conti, Jenn Valenti
It’s easy to see how this Kendra Scott store had the highest grossing Holley Day in their district last year. Local Marketing and Philanthropic Specialist Donica Cook is proud of the deep relationships forged between the store and its community. She notes that the ties between philanthropy, customers, and Kendra Scott multiply to “do good.” Donica and Samantha ensure that store employees always keep these connections “top of mind,” and work to build bridges from one organization to another. In 2021, the Kendra Scott boutique at Short Hills Mall gave back $31,000 to various causes across their community.
On October 13th, they will attempt to break last year’s Holley Day record–partnering with Jenn, Emma, Sammy, and local IoH families once again. The Kendra Scott stores that gross the highest revenue on Holley Day are eligible to send employees as volunteers on the upcoming Kendra Scott-sponsored IoH Legacy Retreat® in early 2023. This annual nation-wide competition results not only in a life-changing service experience for Kendra Scott employees, but also the ultimate bragging rights. Volunteers come back with true understanding of Inheritance of Hope and its families, and the circle of giving is completed.
The Kendra Scott boutique at Short Hills Mall is highly motivated to win, as they have seen firsthand just how impactful IoH is, but they face stiff competition in Austin–Kendra’s hometown–and big markets in around the country. However, with Sammy, Emma, and an on-point TikTok game, they just might pull it off!