Published by: Coastal Point
Last September marked the 10-year anniversary of the passing of Justin Jennings, but it marked a new beginning for a selfless organization. The Justin W. Jennings Foundation, which was started by Justin’s parents, Craig and Mary Ellen Nantais, has become a strong force in Bethany Beach and the surrounding community.
Justin’s Beach House, the foundation’s flagstaff project, debuted in September 2010, on what would have been Justin’s 30th birthday. Last month, the respite home for families struggling with cancer celebrated its first full year helping families throughout the region, with hopes of doing the same for decades to come.
“It’s been quite a process,” said Kathy Green, executive director of the Justin Jennings Foundation. “After raising money and donations for the house, it finally came into fruition with the unveiling last September. We had our first family stay there that Christmas, and we hit the ground running by spring.”
From June through September of this year, Justin’s Beach House served as a retreat for a different family each week as they escaped the hospital stays, doctor appointments and other hardships that come with the battle against cancer. Though Hurricane Irene cause a minor setback in visitors’ schedules, the foundation celebrated an otherwise successful first year and expects to maintain their run.
The three-story, six bedroom, 5.5 bathroom house can accommodate 12 people and provides guests with living/gathering rooms on each floor, each equipped with a flat-screen television. The house was a project of Contractors for a Cause, a local group of contractors and builders focused on supporting those in need throughout the community.
The house’s proximity to the beach makes summer the most ideal time for guests to visit, but families are just as apt to stay during the offseason, too. This year, Justin’s Beach House is planning for visitors later this month and again over the Thanksgiving holiday.
The foundation works closely with children’s hospitals and pediatric centers, including the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), Christiana Medical Center and A.I. DuPont/Nemours, though they accommodate any families suffering from cancer, whether the patient is a child or parent. Families from Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., have already stayed in the home.
Eligible applicants, regardless of age, are those who are currently being treated or who have been out of treatment for up to one year. The Justin Jennings Foundation will begin taking applications for visitors for 2012 starting at the turn of the year.
This week, Justin’s Beach House was closed for maintenance work, including the removal of two trees at the front of the property, which were deemed a potential threat, but they won’t simply be discarded.
“We’re looking to turn the wood from the trunks into benches,” said Green. In fact, the success of Justin’s Beach House has consistently been themed around giving back.
“This community has done so much for the house and the foundation,” she said. “It’s really amazing. Everyone who helps out, no matter what they do, is so proud to be a part of Justin’s Beach House. People are constantly stopping by, still, offering their time or donations.
Once a family is booked for their week at Justin’s Beach House, businesses and individuals come out of the woodwork to help. Greeters and gift baskets await the families’ arrival. Gift cards, baked goods, fudge, wine and other goodies are provided to the families by donations from throughout the community.
“When a family gets set to come here,” said Green, “their information goes to the house coordinator. From there, we look at things they might like or need for the week – bikes, chairs, beach toys. And the families really appreciate everything.
“One of the best quotes we had came from a family of five this summer. They had great weather all week, and the mother told us that it was the best week their family has ever had together. It was a chance for them to get away from the appointments and scheduling and the constant wear and tear that they’ve been going through. Here, they could just relax and enjoy being together as a family.”
This summer season, the Town of Bethany Beach worked with the foundation to approve a variance that allows the house’s oversized Adirondack chair to stay in place in the property’s front yard.
“We’re very grateful for the Town’s cooperation,” said Green. “The house has only been up and running for a year, but the chair out front has become a symbol. It’s kind of like what the totem pole is to Bethany. If it wasn’t there, you’d feel that a piece was missing. People are constantly stopping to take a photo or sit in the big chair. We really appreciate what the town, the community and volunteers have done for us.”
Over the next weeks, the Justin Jennings Foundation committee will analyze the first year of operation of the house and suggest ideas to improve the home for families in the future. Others who would like to give back can do so by visiting www.justinjennings.org.
This Friday, Oct. 7, Contractors for a Cause will host their 14th Annual Golf Classic at Cripple Creek, with proceeds benefitting the Contractors for a Cause Legacy Scholarship Fund, the Willy Cannon Family and Justin’s Beach House. For information about registering for the tourney, visit www.contractorsforacause.org or call Gary Stoll at (703) 408-0164.
On Friday, Oct. 21, at 11 a.m., A Pink Affair, a non-profit organization that celebrates the lives of breast cancer survivors and honors those lost their battle with breast cancer, will host a brunch at Epworth United Methodist Church in Rehoboth Beach. The Cancer Support Community and Justin’s Beach House are both recipients of funds raised by the event. Tickets cost $30 apiece and include brunch, as well as silent and “Chinese” auctions. To attend the event, email email@example.com with the number of desired tickets. For more information, contact Cathi Bost at (302) 644-9095.