By Jerry Jordan, Editor
The voting is over and four charities created to help children wait for the results to come later this week, determining which will receive a $100,000 prize to further their efforts and endeavors to make the lives of children and their families a little better.
Named in honor of The NASCAR Foundation’s founder, the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award is presented annually to a charity impacting the lives of children. This is the 12th year that the award has been given and the four charities are already winners because each finalist receives a $25,000 donation. The overall winner receives a total of $100,000.
“Each finalist has exemplified an unparalleled commitment to serving children in their communities and serve as an inspiration to many,” said Mike Helton, The NASCAR Foundation Chairman. “We encourage our fans to learn more about our finalists’ stories and vote for this year’s award winner.”
Amongst the finalists for this year’s award, there seemed to be a common thread as each representative has suffered a loss or been moved emotionally to embrace their mission of helping others.
As part of the experience, representatives from each charity were in Phoenix for the NASCAR season finale at Phoenix Raceway. They met with members of the racing community and enjoyed all that NASCAR has to offer. Now, they must wait until Nov. 17 to find out which charity will receive the full $100,000. However, each representative interviewed by Kickin’ the Tires said the experience has already brought more attention to their organizations and opened them up to more ways to get people involved.
“This is huge for us,” said Tracy Williams, of Jacksonville, Florida, a volunteer with the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports families that are tackling childhood cancer. It will be really changing for our organization to further invest in our transportation program. Amazing at $25k helps us to give back more to our families for tires, oil changes and gas cards to take children to and from treatment.”
During her interview, Williams was working in her office at a local medical facility and answering media questions about the foundation as Hurricane Nichole was battering Florida’s Atlantic coastline. But Williams, like the other representatives, wanted to ensure that people know about the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Foundation and how it helps young people dealing with cancer.
“There is no good cancer,” Williams said. “We focus on supporting families that are dealing with cancer. In the 1990s, Coach Tom Coughlin was at Boston College when Jay McGillis was diagnosed with leukemia at 19. He saw what the family did and rallied behind him. Unfortunately, Jay lost his fight. Coach vowed that one day he would be in a position to help families facing leukemia and other pediatric cancers, so when he came to Jacksonville as coach of the Jaguars, he created the foundation.”
Since its inception in 1996, the foundation has helped over 5,000 families. If it is selected as the overall winner, some of the money from the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award will go towards its transportation program, which provides families with tires, oil changes and gas cards to allow them to take their children to and from treatment facilities.
Just a few hundred miles west of Jacksonville, Tammy Garrett, of Mobile, Ala. is hoping the Rapaphope Children’s Retreat Foundation of Alabama, will be the overall winner. Rapahope also provides help to children suffering from cancer but is smaller that the other finalist charities.
“I wish we didn’t have a reason to exist but as long as we do, we are going to do all we can to support families, children and siblings,” Garrett said. “Cancer for a child is cancer for a family.”
Garrett said Rapahope helps not only the child going through a battle with cancer but also the parents and siblings, who see firsthand what is happening to their loved one. She said she understands that Rapahope is a smaller charity and that the $25,000 it already received is a true blessing.
“We are a very small independent organization with no affiliations but we try to be very big,” Garrett said. “To get $100,000 would be phenomenal for us but the $25,000 was like found money. Still, for us, it is about the exposure we have received. It is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, getting this much exposure nationwide.”
Garrett said Rapahope helps children from Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida and families don’t pay a dime for the events, camp sessions and retreats. She explained it was important to ensure a cancer patient’s siblings aren’t left out of the fun because most of the attention is focused on beating cancer and sometimes the siblings miss out on parts of their lives.
“It’s life-altering and we work hard to try and have events and try to package as much fun into them as we can,” Garrett said. “Cancer is so unfair to kids, they haven’t even started living yet. I wonder why in the world this happens to kids. I struggle with not knowing why but I am so thankful to NASCAR for helping us in getting our message out to benefit other children and their families.”
Dan Majetich didn’t have to go very far to attend the NASCAR season finale at Phoenix Raceway as the representative for the charity he started in honor of his two sons. The Nick and Kelly Children’s Heart Fund of Arizona, an organization that assists Arizona families of children with congenital heart disease and acquired heart disease, is located less than 30 miles from the track. Still, he said it was an experience like no other and it was a chance to spread the charity’s word and honor his sons.
“We had two boys and they both had congenital heart defects,” Majetich told Kickin’ the Tires. “Our younger son had serious problems and we took them to Rochester to the Mayo Clinic. We took them everywhere we could possibly take them but Kelly died in 1985 and our son Nick died in 1992.
“We were devastated and thank God for our family and friends. I can’t tell you how much I owe those people. They kept us going. In 1985 when Kelly died, we had $500 in our savings account and we started looking at charities and there was no fit. There was not a group in Arizona that was involved in this stuff, so we decided to start our own. And after a long climb and a long ladder with a lot of help, it happened.”
Majetich said he and his wife, Margaret, met a nurse practitioner who told them about a camp on Catalina Island that would be the perfect place to take children facing congenital heart issues. He said they took 10 kids on the first trip and half of them were crying, at first, because they had never been away from their parents or had a chance to be on their own.
“These kids were seriously ill,” he said. “They were not the kind of kids that usually got invited to spend the night somewhere, much less go away to be at a camp. Everyone that we talked to, we told them how much fun they were going to have and we’d try to grab the parents and reassure them.”
Majetich explained that by the end of the five-day, four-night experience, there were still kids crying as they went back home but it was for a different reason.
“For these kids, getting away from the parents, both sides are very scared,” he said. “But when it was over, they didn’t want to go home, they wanted to go back to camp. They also spread the word that the camp is awesome and shared all the stuff they did.”
Now, the camp is based in Arizona, and it hosts as many as 130 kids annually. At one point, times were tough financially and Majetich said some of his friends suggested they try to raise money through a charity golf tournament. He wasn’t sure how successful it would be but it turned out to be a tremendous event that raised over $15,000. He said the money from the Betty Jane France Foundation, should the Nick and Kelly Children’s Heart Fund of Arizona be the overall winner, would cover camp costs for an entire year.
“It is fantastic. We have received recognition from the state of Arizona,” Majetich said. “This puts us on a whole new level. We are really, really excited. It is so nice to be recognized by an organization like The NASCAR Foundation.”
Asked what his two sons would think, Majetich said, they know and he is sure they are proud.
“They are here 24 hours a day,” he said. “But they would expect this from us because we were always involved in school and volunteered at the school and nurse’s office. I know they are proud of us. But I am more proud of our family and friends for getting behind us and taking this journey with us. It is so gratifying and to see the kids when they come home and the whole time they are talking about camp. It is just really, really the best thing for us. If we didn’t have the camp I honestly don’t know where we would be.”
The final charity selected as a Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award finalist is Who We Play For, and similar to Majetich’s charity, it also is centered around cardiac issues. Co-founded by Ralph Maccarone of Pagosa Springs, Colo., Who We Play For has a mission to eliminate preventable sudden cardiac arrest in young people by providing affordable heart screenings.
Maccarone said, his son’s legacy lives on because of his friends and high school soccer teammates who were there the day he went into cardiac arrest following a warm-up run. Rafe Maccarone, who had an unknown heart condition and had passed his physicals, laid down after the run to rest and stretch but when the others got up, he did not. Thinking he had choked on chewing gum; they performed the Heimlich Maneuver but then began CPR as he was not responsive. He was transported by ambulance to a local hospital and died the next day.
“Our organization has always been a grassroots effort started by Rafe’s friends, teammates and the Cocoa Beach Community,” Maccarone said. “We’ve always operated on a tight budget, and this financial gift will go a long way in assisting us in saving students’ lives and to raise the awareness of Sudden Cardiac Arrest. The funds would be used to continue our effort in providing financial assistance for students who could not afford the ECG Heart Screenings. We would also use a portion to assist students without medical insurance that are flagged for follow-up care. As we all know, medical procedures are very costly.”
Maccarone said when he met the other charity representatives in Phoenix, he knew that each of them was is deserving of the overall prize. And regardless of the outcome, he said the experience has been almost unimaginable. He said he has received calls and support from friends across the country and Who We Play For has been recognized nationally for its work in raising awareness of Sudden Cardiac Arrest.
“Being recognized by the Betty Jane France (Humanitarian Award) has been amazing,” he said. “It validates the importance of what we are trying to accomplish by raising the standard of care in our communities. The support has shown me how important our work has been and will continue to be. To hear the stories from parents of students that have been saved by Who We Play For screenings gives me comfort in knowing that Rafe’s legacy lives on. Those parents have become our best spokespersons.”
“I am definitely nervous. After meeting the 3 other finalists in Phoenix last weekend, and hearing their stories, it is apparent that all of the charities are so deserving of this award.”
As Maccarone said, even though only one charity can be the overall recipient of the $100,000 every person asked agreed there would be no disappointment because being a finalist and telling the world about the work each charity is doing, is priceless.