Santa Maria Sun / News
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 52
Jack's Helping Hand offers families of medically fragile children the support they need
BY AMY ASMAN
For a parent, there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing the look of pure, uninhibited joy on your child’s face. When that child is sick with a life-threatening disease or lives with a serious developmental disability, witnessing your child’s happiness is even more powerful.
Nipomo resident Rosemary Garcia gets to watch her kids—William, 7, and Jillian, 5—experience the thrill of horseback riding every week at Wagner Ranch in Arroyo Grande. The brother and sister are two of the first children to participate in an equestrian therapy program offered by Jack’s Helping Hand. The SLO County nonprofit helps kids like William, who is non-verbal autistic, and Jillian, who suffers from a rare form of Leukemia, live fulfilling, somewhat normal lives.
Medically fragile children like Jillian spend a sizable portion of their young lives in and out of hospitals, being poked and prodded by doctors and nurses.
“People really have no idea how much pain and anguish these children go through,” Jack’s Helping Hand co-founder Bridget Ready said. “When they are feeling up to it, we want them to enjoy their lives to the fullest.”
Ready and her husband, Paul, started the nonprofit to give local families the resources they didn’t have when they were caring for their 3-1/2-year-old son, Jack, who died from a rare form of brain cancer in 2004.
“[The Central Coast] is such a beautiful community to live in, but there just aren’t the resources that other communities have,” Ready said.
That’s where Jack’s lends a helping hand, supplying families with gas and gift cards for transportation and food, airfare to specialty hospitals, medical-bill coverage, and even hearing aids and prosthetic limbs. All of these things are paid for through fundraising efforts, including a barbecue in July and a golf tournament in September.
In addition to offering financial aid, Ready said her organization’s goal is to show these families “that they’re not alone.”
“We’re here, and we’ll always be here,” she said. “We want to be your safety net through all of this.”
Since Jillian’s cancer diagnosis in 2012, Jack’s has helped the Garcias with gas and food cards, and now the organization is hooking them up with therapeutic horseback riding lessons.
“Jillian’s doing amazing! She’s riding by herself, which is kind of scary, but amazing,” Garcia said. “William is more verbal when he’s really excited and into it.”
She said horse trainer Lisa Ankenbrandt and her cadre of volunteers are teaching her children how to control their steeds through games and other exercises. They’re also instilling important life skills.
“The patience of the volunteers is not always easy to find,” Garcia said. “[William] can be very stubborn. … We’re teaching him that he can’t just get off the horse when he wants to; he has to finish his lesson because he committed himself to it.”
She said she appreciates that the volunteer staff at Jack’s regularly checks in with her family to see how they’re doing.
“They don’t make us feel like we have to ask for everything,” she said.
In addition to the equestrian program, Jack’s offers a warm-water swimming program, a parents’ support group, and three “toy libraries” in Paso Robles, SLO, and Nipomo. The libraries are filled with playthings specially designed for children with disabilities.
This year, the nonprofit is also going to take over sponsorship of Camp Reach for the Stars, a weekend-long camping extravaganza for families who are dealing or have dealt with a cancer diagnosis. The camp will be held June 6 through 8 at Rancho El Chorro Park in San Luis Obispo, and it’s open to SLO County residents and families who have attended past camps through the American Cancer Society.
“Some people have said [the camp] is a highlight of their lives and that it helped the entire family because they just got to be normal,” Ready said. “They get to spend time with other families that are living through the same thing, and problem solve and talk and have fun.”
Contact Managing Editor Amy Asman at email@example.com.