Daniel Boudreaux is one of many who have been helped by Bob and Janet Leslie over the years. Photo by Gabrielle Feld.

Giving back: JL Foundation

There’s a story told in camp dining halls, vacation Bible school classrooms and any place where inspiration and encouragement are shared. The original author, like many stories of its kind, is unknown. However, its message of overcoming adversity has been passed around the Internet and the world, speaking to the universality of human struggles and triumphs.

The story follows the reactions of a carrot, egg and coffee bean when met with boiling water.

The carrot, though originally strong, becomes soft and weak. The egg starts fragile but gradually hardens. But, unlike the other ingredients, the coffee bean changes the water around it.

Bob and Janet Leslie are the coffee bean. After years of watching their daughter Jennifer battle leukemia, and succumb to the cancer in 2001, the Leslies were devastated but motivated.

“I thought, ‘We can do something, or we can get in a shell,’” says Bob. “That was the start of the JL Foundation.”

Bob and Janet Leslie (left) received the D. Jensen Holliday Memorial Community Service Award in 2016. Pictured here presenting the award on behalf of the Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center Board of Directors are Brett Furr and Estelle Holliday. courtesy mary bird perkins-our lady of the lake cancer center.

The pair founded the organization in March 2002 with the goal of helping other leukemia patients like Jennifer. Through monthly checks, the Leslies give back 100% of the donations they receive to the many patients they help to cover the cost of everything from gas to utility bills to food.

“Even if they aren’t huge checks, it’s something to let them know that we are thinking about them and they are in our prayers,” remarks Janet. “Having a support system is so important.”

Working out of their home office, the Leslies work nonstop to connect with individuals throughout the community in order to raise money for the organization. And while the JL Foundation doesn’t put on large-scale events, Bob says what keeps them going is the philanthropic nature of locals and their businesses.

“When we first talk to someone about donating, they want to know what the perks are—you know, where their logo will go and all of that,” explains Bob. “But the real perk of donating to us is that you know that all of your money goes straight to someone who needs it. Isn’t that the point anyway?”

The Leslies also work with social workers in places like Mary Bird Perkins – Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center and the St. Jude Children’s Hospital affiliate clinic in Baton Rouge to bring their efforts to the patients. The only requirement to receive assistance is a leukemia diagnosis.

“There is really nothing like this for the other types of cancer,” says Bob, who notes that he hopes his organization will help inspire similar efforts. “We don’t raise the money to keep it. We raise it to give every cent to someone who could use it, no matter how much money they make.”

Through years of dealing with the cancer of their daughter, Bob and Janet say that the disease impacts every family differently, but the effects touch every part of a family’s life.

“I just remember feeling so helpless,” says Bob. “I could have been a millionaire and that wouldn’t have changed anything. That’s why we want everyone to take the assistance we offer. Even if it’s just to go out to dinner or do something to get your mind off the treatments. Things like that help keep up positivity. With cancer, attitude is everything.”

And that upbeat outlook is what has allowed Bob to keep working daily for the organization, despite his own diagnosis of T-cell lymphoma. For him and Janet, the experiences they have lived through allow them to better serve patients through the foundation.

“I do things 100% all in,” says Bob. “This organization is vital to us and the hospital, and we aren’t stopping until we absolutely can’t do it anymore.”

“We do this all for nothing, really,” adds Janet. “We just want to keep Jennifer’s memory alive.”