When you walk around the campus of East Chapel Hill High School, you can still hear stories about JJ Vance and his lasting impact at the school.

There's the story about JJ spending time at lunch sitting with a Japanese exchange student. The student spoke precious little English and JJ spoke virtually no Japanese, but they still communicated. JJ wanted to make sure that the student didn't sit alone during lunch.

There are the stories about JJ on the soccer field, making a game-saving stop as East Chapel Hill's goalie or cajoling and challenging younger players. A gifted student-athlete, JJ wanted to teach younger students about the game to help them achieve their potential.

There are stories of JJ befriending students who were being teased and taunted by their classmates. JJ would befriend these students, letting both the students and classmates know that they deserved to be treated with respect and dignity.

In December of 1998, at the age of 14, Jeffery Joseph Vance was stricken with a fatal blood clot. The cause of the clot remains unknown. He died on December 12, 1998. His death profoundly affected the school and his family, and yet his legacy lives on.

After JJ died, Margaret, her husband, Dr. Jeffery Vance, a physician and researcher at the Hussman Institute for Human Genomics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, and their daughter, Danica, received more than 300 letters from people who knew JJ. The letters recounted JJ's acts of kindness, his passion for life, and his fundamental belief to help those around him. The Vance family was devastated and still struggling with their loss, but the letters reaffirmed what they already knew about JJ.

Heartened by the public response to JJ's death and committed to celebrating his life, the Vance family created the JJ Vance Foundation a few months after JJ's death.

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