WMUB Report: Jay’s Hope

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Amyre Makupson

Families find support in Macon’s Jay’s Hope organization, a non-profit supporting families dealing with childhood cancer.

Host: Today we will be welcoming Christy Johnson from local nonprofit Jay’s Hope. Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about Jays hope.

Guest: Absolutely, Jay’s Hope was started almost 15 years ago by Cindy Gaskins whose son was battling cancer at the time. And she saw a need for support services in our community. So she started the Jay’s Hope Foundation.

Host: You actually stole my first question, isn’t it? So what? What upcoming events do you guys have for Jay’s Hope right now.

Guest: One of the important things in our organization is fundraising because we don’t get any support from the state or from the federal government. So we rely on our community and one of our biggest fundraisers is coming up on Halloween day. And it’s called our Trek or Treat road race. So it’s a road race. It’s a family friendly event. We have a 5-K this year. And we have an unschool key sprint, which is one mile and the cool thing about it is you come in costume because it’s on Halloween, and kids that are 12. And under that participate in any of our races, get a free bag of candy at the end of their race as a reward. So if that’s not a reason to run, I don’t know what it is.

Host: Wow, this does sounds amazing. And have you ever had a program like this before in the past?

Guest: Our race is in its 15th year, it was actually our first fundraiser at Jay’s Hope. Our executive director, Cindy, is a runner, so she decided to do what she knows. And that was make her race and obviously since then we’ve grown. But this event still seems to be our most popular.

Host: How will the event look different this year from the last 15 years due to COVID?

Guest: Usually every year, we include a candy mile where kids actually get to collect the candy on the one mile route. But obviously, with covid and distancing restrictions, we’ve eliminated that and just decided to give the candy at the end of the race so they can do the run and then get it there. We’re also requiring masks before and after the race while you’re running, you don’t have to wear one. And we will do what’s called a rolling start. So everyone won’t start at once. They’ll kind of go in waves. And then we have chip timing, which doesn’t require any kind of writing of your time you just run across the pad and it records your time. And so we’re hoping that we can have a safe and fun race. I know people are ready to get out and start doing stuff.

Host: So let’s talk a little bit more about Jay’s Hope. What all services do you guys provide?

Guest: We provide what is called direct support services. So we’re helping childhood cancer families in the midst of their battle. So while they’re in the hospital, or even after treatment when they need help, so we are do meal and gas cards for them to get to their appointments. If a parent has to step away from their job to care for their child, we help pay with pay mortgages and utility bills. We have a tutor on staff. So when our kids miss school because of treatment, she can come in and tutor them so that they can stay on track in school. And what our families love the most i think is our monthly social events. So we get together once a month, all of the parents, the siblings and the kids, the patients and kind of hang out and do something fun, so they can all talk and interact and share their stories.

Host: I saw that you guys had an apartment for families who might need it. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Guest: We do. So we serve all of Georgia, we have about 500 patients statewide and a lot of our southern Georgia families come and get treatment at navicent. The Ronald McDonald House is a great resource, but they fill up a lot of the times. And so our apartment, which is right underneath our building has two bedrooms, a kitchen, a laundry room and a living room. It’s kind of a home away from home. And so it’s a place where our families can stay when they have extended treatments and kind of feel a little bit of normalcy in the middle of all of this.

Host: So with all these different services you provide has any of them been affected or changed by COVID?

Guest: Well, we try to keep things keep providing these services for our families. But it’s not a secret that it’s hit hard. A lot of nonprofits, we’ve had to cancel several of our fundraisers during the severe time of COVID. And so luckily, we have not had to scale back. Our donors have really stepped up to help us. Usually if we have a need, we just put it out there and ask and they provide. So it’s just been really been blessed to watch people just step up and support us in this in this difficult time.

Host: 15 years ago was your first race; so it seems like so far y’all have already come so far with providing different amenities and services for your patients. Where do you see Jays hope going in the next 10 years?

Guest: Well, we pride ourselves ourselves on being a personal organization. So we never want to get too big where we don’t know all the kids names and their siblings names and we can say hi and love on them. So we just want to keep offering our services to the Middle Georgia area. And what we’re doing as we see a need builds up, we try to fill it, for example, a lot of our families that had lost a child to cancer were grieving. And they didn’t have other people that just got that kind of grief. So last year, we actually started a grief retreat in St. Simons. So we take all of our families that have lost a kid to St. Simons and kind of do a therapy session there and they can get together. So as we move forward, we look for more things like that, like needs that we need to fill that we haven’t yet.

Host: That sounds like such a great community that you’re creating in a safe space for people to go. Well, that’s amazing. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about where we can find more information on Jay’s Hope, and you know, what kind of fundraisers you guys are having, and just really get ourselves involved?

Guest: We thrive on community support. We have three people that work in our office. So we really need a lot of volunteers. So we would love for folks to come out and volunteer, they can go to our website, jayshope.org and there is a form that they can fill out and they’ll receive emails of upcoming events, and they can decide what they want to help with. You can also find out about our fundraisers, we have a really fun blind wine tasting that we do every year that will happen in February. We’re having a big 15th anniversary bash in April to celebrate our 15 years of hope. So all of that is on our website. And we have a really active Facebook page too. So if people are interested in hearing about our kids, they can go to our Facebook page.