Upper School Learns the Power of Gratitude and Friendship from Danielle Decker Jones ’90

Danielle Decker Jones ’90 has blazed a trail of accomplishments in her media career. She began as a coordinator at the CBS News Washington bureau, then became a senior editor for The Hotline, the National Journal’s daily briefing on politics.

She joined POLITICO after its launch, moving through several roles with ever-increasing responsibility until she was executive vice president for expansion, helping manage POLITICO’s growth internationally and in the United States. When several POLITICO executives launched a new media website, AXIOS, she was involved.

Yet, when she spoke at Upper School Chapel, she hearkened back to a less confident moment of her life: She asked her audience to imagine being an awkward 12-year-old, with braces and an unruly mop of curly hair, who was living with her mother in a condo and had never played on an athletic team. At that difficult time, in the middle of her 7th grade year, she transferred to a new school—Norfolk Academy.

“What would you feel if the kids rallied around you?” she said. “Gratitude! They brought me in.”

Those welcoming students soon became her close friends, and when her father died during her senior year, they again rallied around her. “The whole school was very supportive,” she said.

Two of her closest friends helped in specific ways. Brooke (Straeten) Avery ’90 made a sign—a simple construction paper sign with a clear message, written in colored markers: The Lord Loves the Deckers. The “Loves” was represented by a heart, and when Mrs. Jones found it stuck to her front door, “it said to me, ‘the world is bigger...you are blessed and strong.’” She has kept the sign through the years, and she held it up for the students. Another friend, Kate (Turner) Gelwick ’90 , has sent her a card every year on the date of her father’s death. Both Mrs. Avery and Mrs. Gelwick were in the audience for the chapel talk, along with Mrs. Avery’s parents, Carol and Dave Straeten. Senior Straeten Avery ’19 introduced Mrs. Jones.

After talking about those friends of her youth, Mrs. Jones spoke about her best friend: her husband, Jeff Jones, coach of the ODU men’s basketball team. Coach Jones has battled prostate cancer, and this fall, he announced publicly that the disease, which he thought he had vanquished, had returned.

As Mrs. Jones and her husband learned about the high costs of cancer treatment, and about the many patients who cannot afford tests or travel costs to receive necessary care, she launched a fundraiser. She and her husband gave $13,280, the cost of an expensive test that he needed during his diagnosis, to support The American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge Network, which provides free, comfortable accommodations for the many cancer patients who need to travel for treatment.

Mrs. Jones has publicized the effort. Now, nearly every morning, she gets an email notifying her that the fundraiser has received a donation, gradually climbing to its current total of nearly $75,000. With each email, she feels a tremendous sense of gratitude. “When you are focused on appreciating, you don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself,” she said. “The most direct path to joy is being thankful.”

To learn more or contribute to Mrs. Jones’s fundraiser, visit DJ’s Hope Lodge Fundraiser.