There’s not a brick or any mortar in sight, yet Justin’s Beach House will be welcoming its first guest this September, just in time for the Make-a-Wish Triathlon at Sea Colony.
Vanessa Stauffer, 2, and her family – sister Kira and their mom and dad, Tracey and Donnie, plus her grandmother – will be coming in from outside Allentown, Pa., the weekend of the triathlon and will actually be staying at the home of Justin W. Jennings Foundation Board Member Tina Pipitone in the Salt Pond.
Nessa was born on Dec. 9, 2005, and has been battling PNET, or a primitive neuro-ectodermal tumor, for the last year.
Months of e-mails and phone conversations culminated when Debbie Christ (rhymes with mist) of Ocean View, a friend of the Stauffer family, and her husband, Geoff, met this week with Craig Nantais, director of events and fundraising for the Justin W. Jennings Foundation, as well as board member Pipitone and two of the other triathlon team members planning to run in the triathlon as “Team Nessa.”
Christ recently found out that Nessa had been granted her wish to go to Disney World by the Make-a-Wish Foundation, the beneficiary of the Sept. 20 triathlon. So Geoff Christ and some friends decided they would do the Sea Colony triathlon in Nessa’s name, and Debbie wanted Nessa to be able to see them compete, so she contacted Nantais for some help.
The Justin W. Jennings Foundation is named after Nantais’ son, Justin W. Jennings, who was diagnosed with brain cancer just four weeks before leaving to attend Penn State and had dreams of being a psychologist. Justin died on June 25, 2000, from his illness. The foundation was created to bring his to life his dreams to help families. The foundation partnered in January 2005 with Contractors for a Cause to pursue their mission of building and maintaining a home in the Bethany Beach where families affected by cancer can have a place of respite and enjoy some time together away from doctors, hospitals and chemotherapy.
Christ knew that Justin’s Beach House had not yet been built but had thought she had heard that the foundation was, in the meantime, still granting stays for families affected by cancer, at other area homes. She was surprised to learn that was not the case.
“Nope, she’s first,” commented Nantais. “But, when I heard about her, we just couldn’t say no.”
After talking with some members of the foundation, Nantais actually had three houses to choose from, so they could offer Nessa her beach getaway even before Justin’s Beach House becomes a reality.
The house will be stocked with linens and towels, food, flowers, gift certificates, a princess basket (because Nessa loves princesses) and anything needed to make the family as comfortable as possible for their stay at the beach.
“Since we got this [foundation] started, the people here have been great,” said Nantais. “They are genuine and do anything they can to help you.”
Team Nessa and Team Nessa 2 will consist of Geoff Christ of Ocean View, David Bennett of Millville, Marc Christ of Baltimore, Jennifer Buffington of Ocean View and Lolo Wasserman of Ocean City, Md. Geoff Christ has recently lost 70 pounds and, with the help of personal trainer/friend Bennett, is excited about his most challenging triathlon yet.
Christ, Buffington and Bennett joked that their “wish” is to be able to finish, but a picture of Nessa and her story will keep them going until the end.
The mood of this week’s meeting turned a little more somber when Debbie Christ hoped out loud that everything will go as planned, because of recent news that an MRI had shown Nessa’s cancer had spread. Christ said Nessa is trying out a new type of chemotherapy, and they are hoping and praying she will be well enough for the trip.
“It’ll happen,” said Nantais, confidently.
“She inspires me,” said Bennett. “When you are thinking, ‘My life sucks,’ then you look at that picture of Nessa and you are reminded that, no, it doesn’t.”
Geoff Christ added that they are excited to be running for something so personal and that people have been very giving with pledges for the race, but they still need more.
“They’ve been great,” he said. “I’ve got online donations from my parents in Australia, from Walgreens Corporate, from the Delaware Board of Pharmacy.”
Bennett added that it’s nice because things like Make-a-Wish and Justin’s Beach House are not just for the children who are sick, but for the families, so they can enjoy special moments together as a unit.
Nantais said that was why it was so important for them to build Justin’s Beach House, because his family remembered all the support they had through extended family when Justin was sick. “It took a load off,’ he recalled.
“Well, thank God we called you,” said Debbie Christ to Nantais.
“It feels good, doesn’t it?” asked Nantais.
“Yes, it does,” answered Christ.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation has enriched the lives of children with life-threatening medical conditions through its wish-granting work since its grassroots beginning in 1980, when a young boy named Chris Grecius realized his wish of becoming a police officer. The organization has blossomed into a worldwide phenomenon, reaching more than 161,000 children around the world.
The 25th annual Make-A-Wish Triathlon at Sea Colony is a 1.5-kilometer ocean swim, 40-kilometer bike ride and 10-kilometer run for up to 1,000 athletes. It is set for Saturday, Sept. 20, and will start at 7:30 a.m. in the ocean in front of the northernmost Sea Colony high-rise, off Route 1, just south of Bethany Beach. A picnic for participants will be held afterward.
To donate to Team Nessa, go to www.midatlanticcommunity.org, click on “Make a Wish Triathlon at Sea Colony,” then click on “Click Here to Search for Participants” and click on any name on the team, then click “Support Me.” Any donation to any team member on either Team Nessa or Team Nessa 2 will be donated in Nessa’s name.
For more information on the Justin W. Jennings Foundation, visit www.thejwjfoundation.org online.