Jack's Helping Hand - Transforming Lives
I recently sat down and had a conversation with Karen Borges the Executive Director of Jack's Helping Hand. Their mission is to provide community programs that meet the unique challenges children with cancer or special needs under the age of 21. The organization was founded by Bridget and Paul Ready in memory of their son Jack who had a 3 year battle with a rare brain cancer. Karen has also been through a cancer challenge with her son Tyler and relied on the Ready's organization to help at the time in her life that her family needed it most.
Mary Okimoto a Cancer nurse and Karen Borges asked East to participate in their Camp Reach for the Stars program which is a weekend retreat provided at no cost for San Luis Obispo County children with cancer or are in remission, to experience a traditional summer camp with their families. Our staff at East and 2 other therapists offered complimentary massage services to 60 campers. It was such a blessing to be able to give to these families. Some of the expressions of gratitude and joy brought our staff to tears.
Jill: "How did you get involved with Jack's Helping Hand?"
Karen: "Tyler was diagnosed in June of 2009 with Neuoblastoma on his left Adrenal gland. Bridget reached out to us and helped us so that we could go to New York and stay in the Ronald McDonald House for 2 months while Tyler got treatment. She reached out just when we needed it most. Their organization has become a family for us so when I was asked to join the organization as the Executive Director it was easy to say yes. IT was the right time to do it."
Jill: "What types of services and programs does Jack's Helping Hand offer?"
Karen: "We offer everything from financial assistance with medical related costs, connections to cancer resources, and cancer support programs. We often help with hotel rooms, gas and food costs that are incurred when a family must travel with their child who is undergoing treatment. As you can imagine this can get rather costly.
They also offer activity programs for children with special needs. For example: swim classes, riding classes, fun movement classes as well as toy lending programs. And their amazing Camp Reach for the Stars.
Jill: "How many children and their families are in need each year?
Karen: "We assist more than 250 individuals each month in San Luis Obispo County. Our organization is local. So we focus all of our efforts to serve our local communities. There are so many who have reached out to us who wish they had an organization in their community like we have but unfortunately most communities do not. Jack's Helping Hand is really special."
Jill: "What would you like to share with people who have friends or family that are going through a challenging illness or cancer?"
Karen: "It's really hard to ask for help. Even when your friends say 'Let me know what I can do', it's hard to think of things. So when friends and family offer something specific is often a real relief. For example mom used to just fill up our refrigerator and made sure there was always food at the house. So asking if you can picking up your other kids from school, fill up the gas tank, buy groceries, or mow the lawn might help them accept the help. When you have a child in treatment, all of these simple tasks can become really challenging."
Jill: "How can the community get involved with Jack's Helping Hand?"
Karen: "We are a small organization doing big things. We have many programs that are ongoing that can use support and we have an amazing fully accessible park that broke ground in April of 2014 and is under construction. Imagination park is a 33 acre space on the Nipomo Mesa and will be our community's first universally accessible park. It will be accessible by foot, bike , stroller, wheelchair and walker and will include themed play structures, a sand play area, sports areas, an equestrian riding center and a sensory garden. We have been able to do this with the strong support of local donors in our community.
Also I should mention we have a small staff which keeps our overhead down so that $0.95 of every $1.00 dollar donated goes directly to the children and families who need it. So a great way to help our families is to DONATE. This can be financially, or with technology or medical equipment or with your time. We can always use more volunteers to help us with the programs we offer."