Life is always surprising us, isn’t it?

We have our intentions and our goals and our visions, too, and we think we have our hearts set in just the right place. But something always comes along, to surprise us and then delight us and change it all once again.

For Jade Delaney, that surprise was an invitation into the world of pageantry — an adventure that began fast and frenzied and lasted a little while. But it leaves her today with a fundraiser she began all her own and continues to inspire a future that matters to her.

A future of generosity and “purposeful giving,” and something that feels right.

Jade’s pageant career was an unexpected journey. It began while she was a sophomore at South Dakota State University and a friend encouraged her to participate in a Miss America-sponsored local pageant.

“I hadn’t done anything similar to that at all before! But I had always wanted to, just never had the chance,” Jade says.

Well, she took her chance, and she won.

And so the whirlwind began.

Over the next few years, Jade competed in the Miss South Dakota pageant three different times, once making it into the top 10 and, in 2014 as an SDSU senior, winning first runner-up. But within that time, her love and dedication to the humanitarian work that goes along with pageantry grew exponentially.

She did, too.

Before competing in 2014, she knew she wanted to create a project for herself — something to bring to the competition to show her allegiance to the program but also as a way to fundraise. In order to participate, all pageant contestants have to raise a minimum of $100 for Children’s Miracle Network — the Miss America organization partners with CMN to raise money for families of kids who are being treated at children’s hospitals across the nation, and all pageant donations go directly to local families.

Jade needed to fundraise, but she wanted it to feel right, too.

“I really just wanted a meaningful way to ask people for money,” Jade says. “Even though you can compete with $100, contestants usually donate upwards of $1,000, so that was hard to keep asking people for money.”

By this time, she had grown to love the work of Children’s Miracle Network. Her heart was in it, far beyond the stage, so it made sense to create a fundraiser that would benefit CMN then and well beyond her pageantry career.

“I wanted to really show an impact, tell the broader story of how your dollar is being used.”

And she wanted it to be personal. Because she enjoys coffee and is intentional about offering gratitude in life, “Miracle Mugs” made absolute sense.

It would be perfect.

What is Miracle Mugs?

The idea came to Jade while sitting at the ChocoLatte coffee shop one day in Brookings.

“I was telling Donna, the owner, ‘I need something I can sell that can reach more people and broaden awareness,” Jade remembers. “Then she gave me a free cup of coffee and said, ‘Here. Maybe this will inspire you! Ten minutes later, Miracle Mugs was born.”

Her work began in early 2014 by sending tons of letters and emails across the state. As it turned out, the South Dakota Wheat Mission responded and offered to donate $2,500 to help Miracle Mugs off the ground.

“With that money, I bought the first round of coffee mugs, started selling them and just started reinvesting the money into it,” Jade says.

Here’s how it works: Miracle Mugs is a fundraiser that first asks kids who have been helped by Children’s Miracle Network to write a thank-you note.

“A lot of people who donate money don’t really see the impact of their dollar,” Jade says. “But CMN is so unique because every experience is very different for each kid, and the money helps each kid specifically.”

So by asking the kids to write a letter of gratitude — for friendly visits, meals for their family or vacations, for example — those who donate have better ideas of how their money helped.

The thank-you notes are then engraved onto coffee mugs that anyone in the community can purchase.

It’s been a huge success, but for Jade, it’s just to make the kids happy.

“The kids are their own community,” Jade says. “They are battling something so unique that only they could understand within each other’s lives.

Looking ahead

After winning South Dakota’s first runner-up in the summer of 2014, Jade wanted to compete once more, this time in her home state of Minnesota. She won Miss Central Minnesota at the local level and went on to compete in Miss Minnesota in the summer of 2015, making it into the top 10. It was during that time that she was able to grow Miracle Mugs from a South Dakota-based fundraiser to serving North Dakota and Minnesota, too.

But her “big dream” is to promote Miracle Mugs nationwide.

For Children’s Miracle Network, each state has a sponsor child they call “Champions,” and the Champions get together once a year at a conference in Orlando, Florida. Jade would like for Miracle Mugs to be a part of that conference, giving each Champion an opportunity to write a thank-you note that Jade can then use to make a Miracle Mug for each state and sell as such on her website.

“You would be able to click on any state, and the Miracle Mug from that state would be there for sale. You pay for it, and then the money would go back to that state.”

As she grows Miracle Mugs across the nation, philanthropy education is also on Jade’s mind. Just as intentional as she is about making sure people know where their CMN dollars are going, she would love to see businesses be more deliberate about their philanthropy efforts, too.

“I would love to help businesses understand why they give their dollars here or there, and help to tell a better story as to why companies give,” Jade says. “Let’s make this more purposeful giving. If you’re going to do these great things, you should tell people about it, and maybe it will inspire them to give, too!”

Just as she was so many months ago.

Serendipity blessings

This wasn’t a planned path for Jade, and if it weren’t for the initial help from the South Dakota Wheat Commission, this may have never come to be. Or maybe it’s the friend who encouraged her to participate in her first of many pageants, or Donna at ChocoLatte where some of the credit is due.

But maybe it’s just Jade, being who her heart has always intended her to be, just needing her to find her own way.

“The pageants made me a really well-rounded person,” Jade says. “It made me do things that a normal college student wouldn’t do on their own and really made me re-focus on what was important.”

There’s serendipity at play here, too.

“I never would have fallen in love with CMN! I wouldn’t have had any reason to meet these families or volunteer at the hospital,” Jade says. “You really need a little bit of that someone or something to light a fire under you.”

Today, I think it’s Jade who’s lighting a fire under us, encouraging us to be selfless and mindful for those who need help.

And to embrace the surprises in life —
perhaps that’s where the real miracles come from.