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Safety Harbor girl writes the book on giving

Madison Jayanna, who turns 8 today, with mom Justine, sister Priya and dad Sid, holds the manuscript of a book she wrote for a Georgia boy with a brain injury.
Published Sep. 18, 2014

SAFETY HARBOR — Madison Jayanna was 4 the first time her mother discovered in her room stapled stacks of paper covered with stories and illustrations about her family.

By the time she was 7, Madison was a published author and a philanthropist.

Her fantasy book based on a special-needs child, Tripp McQueen, became the basis for a local nonprofit, Giving Foundation for Children. She and her parents raised thousands of dollars for the book's namesake, a Georgia boy with a brain injury. The foundation paid for a special-needs girl's visit with Winter the dolphin, helped pay medical bills of a child car crash victim and donated toys to homeless kids.

Today, Madison turns 8 — and the giving continues.

Instead of celebrating with a party where she receives gifts, the Safety Harbor Elementary third-grader is visiting Tampa's Shriners Hospital for Children this morning to deliver stuffed animals and puzzles to patients.

"It makes me feel very proud and happy," Madison said this week. "I have enough already, and I want to put a smile on other kids' faces too."

Madison's parents, Sid and Justine Jayanna, say their daughter's introduction to community service came unexpectedly.

Last fall, Madison, home on school break, said she was bored. Justine asked whether she wanted to write a book based on Tripp Halstead, a Jefferson, Ga., toddler whose highly publicized brain injury recovery Justine had been following on Facebook.

The real-life Tripp, an avid fan of Cars character Lightning McQueen, was left unable to walk, talk or eat without a feeding tube after Hurricane Sandy winds in October 2012 sent a tree limb on his day care playground crashing into his skull.

Madison penned a story about a sick race car whose family, friends and community help him heal by gathering around a Golden Hoping Tree.

Justine initially shared the tale only with Tripp's mom. But when she posted a page on the boy's social media page, followers urged her to have it published.

The quest for a printer who could transform Madison's handwriting and illustrations from white paper to glossy paperback revealed that incorporating as a nonprofit would help ease production costs.

Sales of the book (the first 100 of 2,500 copies sold bear a fistprint pressed onto the page by Tripp) quickly raised $10,000 for the boy's family.

"It's just overwhelming," said Tripp's mom, Stacy Halstead, 37, "because I worked full time and … and the fact that I have to stay home now with Tripp, that money is just so helpful."

The Halsteads have helped connect the Jayannas with other children in need.

The foundation donated $1,000 to a boy critically injured in a rollover car crash.

The family recently partnered with the University of Florida with plans to donate book proceeds to the school's research on babies born with brain injuries.

And Madison has become fast friends with Callie Truelove, an 11-year-old Gainesville, Ga., girl whose Williams syndrome has resulted in seizures, mini strokes, a weakened heart that eventually requires aorta replacement, sensory and gastrointestinal problems, allergies and mental delays that cause her to function on the level of a 5-year-old.

The Jayannas fulfilled Callie's wish to meet the dolphins at Clearwater Marine Aquarium and are sending her to Disney's Animal Kingdom in November.

"Our families just connected, and they've become our family," said Callie's mom, Tabitha, 43. "It's almost like you can see how (Madison) wants to make a difference."

Madison's parents, who say the venture has taught them about giving too, hope to take the message worldwide.

However, Sid, a 34-year-old information technology professional, hopes to spread awareness and services for special-needs children as far as his native India, where he said that community was nearly invisible when he was growing up.

And watching Madison, who was afraid to approach children in wheelchairs before meeting Tripp, interact with her new friends has inspired Justine, 30, to write the foundation's second book on the everyday lives of "supermoms" and their special-needs children.

Madison will act as co-author, providing questions from the perspective of a curious child.

Meanwhile, Madison — an aspiring author, neurosurgeon and tennis player who received a key to Safety Harbor this March, said she's working on a project of her own.

Between gymnastics, soccer and baseball practice, she'll complete her next book on stars and planets: "On Saturdays and Sundays, after homework."

Contact Keyonna Summers at ksummers@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4153. Follow @KeyonnaSummers.

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