Our Mission

Jamal’s Helping Hands will provide client-focused support and educational resources to rare disease patients and their families to assist in the management of their healthcare.

Our Vision

To be a global leader in education, outreach, advocacy and support to individuals affected by rare disease.

Examining a Child

Jamal's Story

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McKinley "Jamal" Thomas

Jamal was diagnosed with Neurofibromatosis 1 (NF1), also known as Von Recklinghausen's disease, at the age of 9. He underwent 7 surgeries to remove tumors throughout his body, which threatened normal activities of his vital organs and motor skills. 

Despite all of his physical limitations and the mental stress brought on by NF1, Jamal insisted on living a normal life and pursuing his education. After high school, he furthered his quest for learning by obtaining his Associates of Arts from Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland. He then pursued and obtained a Bachelors of Science in Social Work at the Alabama A&M in Huntsville, Alabama. He made such an impact at A&M that the school established a scholarship in honor of him. Ultimately, Jamal achieved one of his biggest dreams by graduating as a Gamecock from the University of South Carolina with a Masters in Social Work with a certificate in Drug Addiction Studies. 

In November of 2013, Jamal began to experience an unusual cough, which was misdiagnosed as an upper respiratory infection. In May of 2014, we unfortunately received the nightmarish news that Jamal had a Malignant Peripheral Nerve Sheath tumor located between his esophagus and aorta, which was a result of NF1. 

After treatment at Johns Hopkins Medical Center and a valiant fight against NF1 and cancer, he was rendered to a wheelchair and given just weeks to live in October 2016. But Jamal did not lose his faith as he maintained that God has the final say and he continued to fight until his passing on March 28, 2017 at the age of 31. 

NF1, while unknown to many, God sent Jamal to be his champion in the fight against this tremendous disease.

Meet Our Founder

Founder & Executive Director

Valeria McConnell, a native of Vicksburg, Mississippi, has more than 35 years of government service in the acquisition career field of Industrial Contract Property Management. She is a member of the Defense Acquisition Corps, the Diversity Leadership Colloquium, and is Past President and member of the National Property Management Association.   

 

Valeria has a heart for God’s people and lives to be HIS helping hand in the midst of a dying world. She has served as Lay Leader, Evangelism Ministry member, Worship Leader, Usher, Sunday School Teacher, and choir member. In 2009, she joined Refuge Church Ministries II of Hanover, Maryland under the leadership of Pastor Rev. Dr. V. Keith Brown Sr. and Pastor Iantha Q. Brown. She currently worships at John Wesley UMC Glen Burnie with her husband. 

While Valeria has served in many roles, her most cherished role is that of motherhood to her sons. She was a compassionate caregiver to her son, McKinley Jamal Thomas, until his untimely death in 2017 from a rare disease. Determined to gain beauty from her ashes, Valeria founded Jamal’s Helping Hands, Inc. (JHH), a nonprofit that strives to enhance the quality of life for patients, with rare disease and their families, by providing caregiver information, educational workshops, outreach and awareness, emergency care support, lodging assistance, and other resources, to make the experience of this chronic and rare disease easier. 

Valeria and her husband, William, reside in Randallstown, Maryland. She has been blessed with two children, McKinley and Thomas, five stepchildren, Terence, LaTyonia, Cheryl, Karen, and Karla, eight grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. 

Meet Our Board of Directors

Our business strategy and affairs are overseen by our board of directors comprised of one chairman and one executive director along with 5 other board members.  All of our board members are dedicated to the success of Jamal's Helping Hands' mission.