Upbeat in the face of cancer

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By Diana Colson

Jack and Jill Late Stage Cancer Foundation (JAJF) is an inspirational organization. Its founder, Jon Albert, lives right here on Siesta Key. In 2010, Jon was honored as the Humanitarian of the Year. In 2011 he received the Avis National Spirit award at Yankee Stadium. In 2015, he was the recipient of U.S. Travel’s National Inspiration Award.   

Jon Albert, Founder of Jack and Jill Late Stage Cancer Foundation (JAJF)
Jon Albert, Founder of Jack and Jill Late Stage Cancer Foundation (JAJF)
Jon was motivated to establish JAJF in 2006 after losing his wife, Jill to cancer. She was just 45, while their children, Jake and Jamie, were only 11 and 13. Through this heart-wrenching experience, Jon realized the power and importance of creating positive, cherished, lasting memories as a family while there is time together; good, fun times near the end which kids will truly treasure throughout their lives.  

Children facing the imminent loss of their young Mom or Dad to cancer are the ones being served by JAJF. For a ten year old to lose her Mom; or a fifteen year old to lose his Dad, these kids are losing their heroes….their security blankets at such a vulnerable age. Through this remarkable, one of a kind non-profit, the family is given a prescribed timeout from cancer, time to get away, play together and build beautiful, indispensable memories…while they can. These fabulous, all-expense paid trips are called WOW! Experiences® and last typically 4-5 days. However, the photographs and recollections are diamonds that last forever. JAJF provides each family a beautiful family photo album and family portrait upon their return.  You can’t create memories with Mom or capture pictures with Dad once they are gone.

Dow Family at Hyatt Siesta Key
Dow Family at Hyatt Siesta Key
JAJF treats families who have children under the age of 18. It is the only organization of its kind serving kids who are about to lose a parent to cancer, a parent who won’t be saved by the next wonder drug, trial or hope for a cure. JAJF takes this young, overlooked population under its wing and helps them create treasured family time together. Two powerful mantras of the organization are: The best part of memories is making them; and memories become our greatest inheritance.  

The purpose, spirit and importance of JAJF is captured in their stunning annual report. JAJF Benefactors are all members of The WOW! Society. Each year, each Benefactor receives his or her own Smile Book…aka the Annual Report. The WOW! SOCIETY®— is an opportunity for individual or corporate Benefactors to adopt their own sweet, young late stage families by funding their prescribed timeout…their WOW! Experience®. This is an opportunity to invest in JAJF.  There is no black hole.  Society Members can meet their families; they will experience their sheer gratitude, joy and relief. Payback is inherent in the smiles.

Baker Family at Longboat Key Club
Baker Family at Longboat Key Club
Jack and Jill Late Stage Cancer Foundation has provided WOWs! to thousands of children and their young Moms and Dads across the United States over the past decade. They are celebrating their 10th anniversary of treating the families; not the cancerJAJF is supported by and dependent on individual financial donors as well as corporate in-kind partners.  

Late stage cancer turns the entire family’s life upside down. Those who support JAJF with their donations appreciate:

  • Cancer does not just strike the Mom or Dad; it strikes their children as well.
  • Life does not end with a diagnosis
  • Children and families together deserve a timeout to experience–to feel–to capture positive, fun time together, gathering lasting memories while they can.

Children AND parents both benefit measurably from receiving a break together. For one shining moment over the course of several days, the focus is on the family, not the terminal illness. Oncologists believe their patients benefit when—together with their families— they experience beaches, sunsets, sports, music, roller coasters, dude ranches and FUN, all part of JAJF’s program.  As a result, oncologists prescribe JAJF as part of their treatment protocol for patient, care-giving spouse, and children. It is a getaway from the reality of cancer, and JAJF provides just what the doctor ordered! Oncologists validate the medicinal impact of laughter and smiles. Jon Albert says: ”The way the national Oncology community has embraced JAJF is humbling.”

Adams Family on an Alaskan Cruise
Adams Family on an Alaskan Cruise
Many young late-stage families from the Sarasota community and surrounding areas have been prescribed JAJF by Florida Cancer Specialists and Moffitt. Families choose between various vacation options that often include places like Nashville, the Caribbean, Colorado, Wyoming, Alaska, Sarasota, and other fabulous destinations. One family went on all-expense trip to St. Johns, while another selected a Dude Ranch in Southern Arizona. Other Floridians have opted for nearby expeditions such Naples or Amelia Island.

Late-stage families from across the United States have been brought right here to our town. In Sarasota, there are several WOW! in-kind partners: The Hyatt Siesta Key, The Hyatt Downtown, The Ritz Carlton and the Longboat Key Club have all enthusiastically hosted families in the past and will continue to do so. “Their goodwill, compassion and hospitality is admirable,” says Jon. 

At these and other fabulous resorts, the family is given a time and place to smile, to laugh, and to create indelible memories. Their chance to play together might be short, but the quality of the experience is forever. It provides a priceless break from the battle with cancer.

In the recent words of a 34 year old Dad of two young boys, a father with late stage colon cancer: “JAJF is doing what no doctor or drug will ever be able to do.”   

In acknowledgement of its amazing work, the Jack and Jill Late Stage Cancer Foundation has been featured as the cover story on CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood, twice on the TODAY Show—including just a few weeks ago, NBC’s Sunday Night Football (the #1 rated show on TV) and twice profiled by Sanjay Gupta.  The clips and cover stories in the Wall St. Journal and USA Today may be viewed on the JAJF website.

To learn more, or to become part of the WOW! Society, go to www.JAJF.org JAJF is a national 501(c)(3) non-profit.  Northern Trust is their depository partner and has partnered with JAJF since the beginning..

(Next month, SIESTA SAND will cover a related business, Hurry Up and Live!, a local lifestyle company supporting late stage cancer families.) 

Siesta Sand
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