When her daughter Jessie died at age 23 in 2013, Clare Ansberry-Smith knew right away that she wanted to do something to commemorate her life. But she didn't want it to be a typical charity event.
"There's a lot of wonderful events out there like walks and runs and dinners, and each parish has a fair, but we wanted something where it was games and just having fun -- sort of an Olympic theme, if you want," Ansberry-Smith said. "Kids love to do that."
So Ansberry-Smith and her husband decided to do something they thought Jessie would've really liked -- a yearly fundraising event packed full of fun carnival games. They called it "The Jessie Games."
"It's just like a huge big family picnic and carnival, with some of the traditional games like watermelon eating contests and waterballoon tosses, a dunk tank, obstacle courses," Ansberry-Smith said. "The Pittsburgh Pierogies come. It's just a lot of fun, and then we always end the day with a cookout."
Ansberry-Smith said Jessie was always passionate about children, raising money for St. Jude’s Hospital and even going to Florida to work with migrant children. So, the Jessie Games were originally held at Jessie's former high school, Seton-LaSalle in Mt. Lebanon, to benefit summer lunch programs for disadvantaged kids.
But as the scope of the games grew and more neighborhoods began to offer summer lunch programs, Ansberry-Smith said they decided to dedicate the proceeds toward "Roller Coasters," a Pittsburgh Catholic Charities program for young children.
"It helps kids who have gone through some sort of trauma in their lives, whether it be divorce or serious illness or death," Ansberry-Smith said. "It just helps them deal with that event in their life."
She said income from the Jessie Games also goes toward a back-to-school program to buy shoes and clothes for low-income families as their kids start the school year.
Ansberry-Smith said the games provide an opportunity for the people who knew Jessie to reconnect every summer.
"Some of the kids she went to high school with have been every year, volunteering," Ansberry-Smith said. "Some of the parents who were her friends in high school come back and volunteer, or the kids from grade school, their parents come back and volunteer."
While many of the volunteers are from the Mt. Lebanon community, Ansberry-Smith said friends and family have come in from as far as Ohio, Michigan and even California to take part in the games.
Ansberry-Smith said she thinks her daughter would have enjoyed the Jessie Games.
"She would be racing with everybody, and dunking her brothers in the tank, or her father," Ansberry-Smith said.
The 5th annual Jessie Games will be held Saturday, July 21 on the football field of Pittsburgh Central Catholic High School.