Contractors for a Cause and the Justin W. Jennings Foundation will welcome summer with a sold-out crowd at their 4th annual Gala and Auction on Friday, June 20, at 7 p.m. at Cripple Creek Golf and Country Club in Dagsboro. The fundraiser is aimed at helping to build Justin’s Beach House, which will be made available to families affected by cancer.
This year’s event is less formal than the black-tie events they have had in the past, according to R. Craig Nantais, Justin Jennings’ father and the director of events and fundraising for the foundation.
“It’s a more relaxed atmosphere, more casual, with a Hawaiian luau theme,” he said.
The main purpose of the foundation is to build Justin’s Beach House, a getaway where families dealing with cancer can stay at the beach.
Craig and Mary Ellen’s Nantais’ son Justin was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor just four weeks before he was to start college at Penn State. Unable to go off to school as planned, he completed a semester at the university’s Delaware County Campus while having treatments, and then completed a semester at Penn State’s main campus. He received alumni status from the school, was awarded the Nittany Lion Award and was presented with a Certificate of Achievement in January of 2000.
“He loved life,” said Nantais of his son. “He loved his education. He was most worried about it interrupting his school. It was almost strange for us to see how he reacted.”
Jennings had plans to return for his first full year on the main campus of Penn State in the fall of 2000. But in the summer of 2000, at 19, Jennings died from the cancer.
The family teamed up with old friend Mike Cummings of Miken Builders and Contractors for a Cause and had the first Gala/Auction to benefit Justin’s Beach House in 2005. A benefactor has donated land for the house among several others to be built on Route 26, across from St. Anne’s Catholic Church in Bethany Beach, and now plan to start building soon.
“We’re really hoping for next year,” said Nantais. “The main purpose [of the beach house] is to help families,” he continued. He remarked that their hope is for the house to have at least five bedrooms, so there will be enough room for the extended family to gather. “We had our extended family down here and couldn’t have done it without them, so people who need help the most will get it.”
In addition to the fundraisers, Respect the Day bracelets and JWJ bumper stickers are sold on the foundation’s Web site, at www.justinjennings.org. According to Nantais, the phrase “Respect the Day” came to be when Justin was being interviewed and a reporter asked him how he could sum up everything that had happened to him. “And he said, ‘Just respect the day, think of where you are and be happy.’ So that, along with the ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ song, is how we honor Justin,” said Nantais.
“And I guess you’ve heard about the Freshmen 400. It’s fantastic,” said Nantais, of the 400-mile walk three outgoing college freshmen — Mike Cumming’s son Sean Cummings and friends Daniel Kleinstuber and Pierson Roenke — embarked on this May to honor Justin and to raise money for the foundation. “More than a fundraiser even, it raised awareness. We had a pig roast on the property and a lot of stopped by. We had no idea what we were doing, but it turned out great!”
“Those three young college kids, to do that, to take the time to give back, there’s not too many college kids that think outside of themselves like that.”
“It’s surprising even with the economy, where everybody’s hurting, people are still giving, still willing to help out,” continued Nantais. “Here’s a bunch of young guys, with Contractors for a Cause, that have done well, and wanting and having the ability to give back. Never in my life did I know there was a community out there like this.”
In addition to the Gala/Auction, the foundation holds a golf outing every October at Cripple Creek. For more information, or to donate to the foundation or buy products that support the foundation’s cause, visit www.justinjennings.org online.