Published by: Coastal Point
Justin’s Beach House and the Justin Jennings Foundation have gained much support since their start more than a decade ago. Members of the surrounding community, local business owners, and even those outside the area, have stepped up to help make Justin’s Beach House a rent-free, safe haven for families struggling with the stresses of cancer.
This past week, the Sussex County Eagles, along with their upstate cohorts, the Wilmington Eagles, brought together $2,600 for the foundation, which will help cover maintenances and upkeep of the house, as well as assist in the foundation’s annual campaign.
“Our main concern as Eagles,” said Frank Culbert, organizer and president of the fraternal organization of the Sussex County Eagles, “is to reach out to the local community. I was introduced to Justin’s Beach House by Robert and Carolyn Strine. They have always been a big help for our organization and told me about the foundation and what it’s doing. We thought this would be a perfect way to give back.”
The Sussex County Eagles have increased their membership to more than 700 men and women. Throughout the year, the Eagles hold a number of events to help raise money for charities and organizations in the community, from a bull and oyster roast to spaghetti dinners.
“We recently raised money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society,” said Culbert, who has been with the Eagles in Delaware for nearly 40 years. “We try to help out different organizations.”
Last fall, Justin’s Beach House reached completion, and it saw its first visitors over this past Christmas and New Year’s holiday. Craig Nantais, chairperson of the Justin Jennings Foundation and father of the late Justin Jennings, was grateful for the donation, which, he noted, will be put to good use.
“When Frank approached me and told us that the Eagles wanted to make a donation,” said Nantais, “it was a wonderful surprise. We are still paying off the land through donations and fundraising events. The money goes toward the general fundraiser for Justin’s Beach House, the upkeep and the mortgage.”
An application process determines which candidates qualify for a stay at the home, and their families receive a week’s stay at the Bethany Beach house, located on Atlantic Avenue. Candidates include cancer patients – parents or children – who currently receive treatment or are within a year of having been treated. Currently, Justin’s Beach House is booked through the summer months, with a new family able to find solace in Bethany Beach during every week from June through Sept. 2.
“Of the 12 families that are coming into town this summer,” said Nantais, who began the Justin Jennings Foundation along with his wife, and Justin’s mother, Mary Ellen Nantais, shortly after Jennings’ death from brain cancer in 2000, “10 of them have children who are struggling with cancer, but we’re here for the entire family, too.”
While word of mouth about Justin’s Beach House has spread among cancer support groups and friends and families from the area, the Justin Jennings Foundation keeps close connections with surrounding hospitals, as well, and has brought in many applicants.
After years of fundraising and construction, this summer marks the first summer that Justin’s Beach House will be in operation.
“It’s really incredible to see all this support pour out of the community,” said Craig Nantais. “We’ve been so fortunate to have so many people donate their time, money and gifts for families that are struggling, and it’s great to see the final product bring something to those who need it most.”
While many donations have helped along the way, the Justin Jennings Foundation board relies heavily on several fundraising efforts to continue to house families. One of those is set for Labor Day weekend, when athletes and their supporters will contribute by participating in the annual Justin’s Beach House Memorial 5K Walk/Run, put on by the Seashore Striders, which will take place on Saturday, May 28, in Bethany Beach.
Pre-registration for the 5K Walk/Run costs $20 and can be done online at www.seashorestriders.com. It will cost $25 the day of the event. Overall male and female placers will be recognized, as well as the top three male and female finishers in five-year age groups. Short-sleeved T-shirts will be available to pre-registrants, and a post-race party at Mango’s restaurant on the Bethany boardwalk will be held.