On his ninth birthday, Joey Roth blew out his candles and wished for a million dollars. On the surface, the wish is a common one. Who doesn’t want a million dollars? But the intention behind Roth’s hefty request was much more altruistic than one might expect of a child.
Two years prior, Roth founded his own charity, JAR for Change, with the simple goal of doing something significant with the lost and discarded nickels, dimes, quarters and more that ended up in his possession, and the possession of others.
“I used to have this big jar filled with change, but I didn’t do anything with it,” says Roth, now 13, who used his initials, Joey Aiden Roth, for the initiative’s title. “I knew there had to be a better place for it.”
That “better” place wasn’t in the cash register at a toy store, but rather in the hands of the nurses at Woman’s Hospital.
“My great-uncle Dr. Leo Abraham was one of the founders of the hospital,” Roth explains. “I was also delivered there, so I know all they do for the babies.”
Roth notes that not all babies are lucky enough to get the healthy start that he did. Many are quickly separated from their mothers due to illness or other complications. And despite being many years from becoming a father himself, Roth says the idea hit home for him.
“At Sunday school, I would go with a dollar, quarter or something like that. It would go in our tzedakah box,” he explains, noting that the word stands for “charity” in the Jewish faith. “The money would go to shelters or other places that needed it. I didn’t understand it at the time, but tzedakah is really everything. It’s just about doing something for someone else.”
Roth is working to spread that idea, and its importance, in the local community. Meeting with business owners to get plastic jars bearing the project’s logo and mission placed in grocery stores, coffee shops and more, as well as giving presentations to his peers at Episcopal School, he approaches each interaction with his project’s straightforward motto: “Everyone collecting change to change the world.”
“The great thing is that anyone can have a jar,” he says, noting that he has organized a starter kit with a jar label and instructions for anyone inspired to take on the philanthropic mission. “And what you give doesn’t have to be a lot. Everything adds up.”
Roth’s change has added up in a big way, as he has now raised nearly $17,000 for Woman’s Hospital and its “Joey Time” initiative, a project named in his honor, which supplies mothers and families with iPads to view and interact with their babies in the neonatal intensive care unit.
“We are always at capacity in the NICU, and Joey has helped us give these mothers a direct way to see their babies, something we didn’t have before,” says Melissa Curry, the event coordinator at Woman’s Hospital who has worked closely with Roth on his projects with the hospital over the years. “We even had a mom with cancer who used the iPad to see her baby while she was in treatment at another facility.”
But while Roth found his passion in working with Woman’s Hospital, he notes that the goal of JAR for Change is not to make everyone donate to one cause, but rather to act as an agent for change, planting the altruistic idea in the minds of everyone—adult and child—who sees the containers at checkout counters or on office desks.
“My advice is to choose something you feel passionate about,” he explains. “If you love soccer, raise money and get a soccer ball for someone who doesn’t have one. That’s enough. Doing a good deed is what it’s about.”