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'One of those special kids who care about others': JesseStrong Foundation helps kids learn to swim

Now, just two months after Jesse Benudiz's passing at the age of 22, his family – including brothers Jamie and Justin – have come together to further his legacy
2021-04-17 JesseStrong Foundation
Purchasing hoodies can help provide swimming lessons or camp visits for children.

As a swim instructor and camp counsellor, Jesse Benudiz was known for his energy and love of life.

Known to friends and family for his “infectious smile” and “contagious energy” he spread sunshine wherever he went, including the hospital where he bravely waged a battle against brain cancer.

Now, just two months after his passing at the age of 22, his family – including brothers Jamie and Justin – have come together to further his legacy, founding the JesseStrong Foundation to help young kids afford swimming lessons and summer camp.

The Foundation, which is currently raising funds through the sale of hoodies, baseball caps, masks, and stickers, is not the first time Jesse and his family have turned such a tragic negative into a positive.

During his first cancer treatment last year, his brothers raised more than $20,000 for Toronto’s Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and now they’re supporting the grassroots.

“Once we found out about Jesse’s cancer diagnosis and we were notified he was going to be starting chemotherapy right away, we wanted to make sure that going through chemo by himself and us not being able to be by his side [due to COVID restrictions] we wanted to give him some positivity,” says Jamie. “We made the t-shirts, we had a car parade, and it was just to give him [a boost] on his long journey. We couldn’t be by his side, we wanted him to know we would always be there.

During his radiation, they were able to present Jesse with the first round of donations and by November of last year he went into remission.

“That was two weeks before his 22nd birthday and it was just happiness, it was like he conquered the world,” says Jamie. “He showed that regardless of his struggles he killed brain cancer. Fast forward to his passing, it was by far one of the worst days we experienced in our lives and it was unbelievable to see the support we had here in the community as everyone knew the journey that he went on, that our family went on, and we knew we just couldn’t stop what Jesse believed in, which was his mental health aspirations, his fitness journey, his fitness goals and, the most important thing, helping others.”

Helping others is a driving force behind the establishment of the JesseStrong Foundation.

Since Jesse’s passing in February, they have already raised more than $12,000 to help kids secure swimming lessons and make summer camp more affordable.

“Whether people purchase a sticker for $5, a hoodie for $60, they just want to help and be a part of the next journey in our lives without Jesse,” says Justin. “They all knew his aspirations and they want to be a part of it. They want to be such a big thing that anyone they know can receive help, whether they want to do swimming lessons or go to camp. The most [common] thing we’ve heard is ‘Jesse would love this’ and ‘Jesse would have done this.’ It just shows that people who don’t live under the same roof as him have the same goals in their lives to help others.”

Adds dad Max: “With the foundation we will keep his memory alive. He was one of those special kids who cared about others before he cared about himself so much. When you’re down, there’s always light at the end of the tunnel and you can’t get down on yourself. If it is just to help somebody, that is what he always used to do. He was the kind of kid who went through chemo, radiation, 13-hour brain surgery all by himself because COVID didn’t allow us to go into the hospital to be by his side. He took that negative and turned it into a positive: he became friends with the nurses, went to other rooms to talk about other people who were going through the same thing, saying, ‘Don’t worry, it’s all going to be good.

“The world needs more of Jesse to make it a better place.”

For more on the JesseStrong foundation, visit or follow them on Instagram

Brock Weir is a federally funded Local Journalism Initiative Reporter at the Auroran