Amherst Athletics celebrates five years of Friends of Jaclyn
The Friends of Jaclyn Foundation works to “improve the quality of life for children with pediatric brain tumors and their families by pairing them with college and high school athletic teams.” Co-founders Denis and Lynda Murphy started the program in 2005 after their daughter, Jaclyn, who was suffering from a malignant brain tumor, developed a special friendship with the Northwestern Women’s Lacrosse team. The Murphys wanted to create opportunities for other children to have similar relationships.
Seven years later, the foundation has paired over 300 children with sports teams all around the country. Three of those children have been adopted by athletic teams at Amherst College–men’s soccer, women’s lacrosse, and football–who have forged unique, lasting relationships with their newest teammates. Through the relationship, the adoptee and his or her family gain an invaluable support system as they work through the challenges of daily life. Conversely, the team gains perspective and learns the immeasurable impact of even the smallest acts of kindness.
In 2007, the men’s soccer team adopted twelve-year-old Michael, who continues to be a part of the team. The youngest Lord Jeff has attended games and team dinners, and recruited the team to facilitate a soccer practice for his Cub Scout troop. Head Coach Justin Serpone remembers a team bowling trip with as one of ways that the team has maintained their friendship with Michael.
Coach Serpone spoke to the importance of the relationship: “I really see it as giving Michael twenty-five big brothers who he looks up to and feels close to. It’s mutually beneficial, really. Michael gets the love and support of an entire team and my guys get the opportunity to grow as adults–to learn to look inwardly and outwardly while they’re here at Amherst.”
Alejandro Sucre ’13 plays on the soccer team and serves on a committee that organizes Amherst’s annual fundraiser for the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation. “Michael is a huge part of our program,” he commented. “We take a lot of pride in our friendship with him. Every times he gets to come here, it’s a big incentive for us to play well, for him.”
The women’s lacrosse team adopted Torey, now a high school senior, in 2008. Head coach Chris Paradis explained that the team has a relationship with Torey that is probably very different than what most teams have with their children because they adopted her when she was a freshman in high school. Torey was also nearing the end of a lot of her major treatments.
“We feel very connected to Torey, but we also came into her life after she’d already gone through a lot. She’s healthy now, which is great, and we really serve as a group of friends for her who are totally supportive of whatever she wants to do with her life” Paradis said. “She hangs out in the locker room with us, she’s got her own jersey, we’ve gone on team hikes, we even went to a corn maize with her and her family. We just brought her into our lacrosse family.”
Torey enjoys horseback riding, among other things, and is in the midst of her college search that may land her close to her team. “We can relate to her on a personal level,” team member Meaghan Tigh ’12 reflected. “When she visits to have a team dinner or watch a game, she’s one of us. When she checks in with us about her prom date or her college search, she’s checking in with 20 friends who care about her.”
The football team adopted Joey, a nine-year-old boy, in 2008 and has embraced him as a fellow teammate for four years— including two of Amherst’s most historically successful seasons. As an honorary team member, Joey has a team jersey and a football signed by the team. He regularly exchanges emails with team members, frequents the sidelines of games, and sometimes gets to throw the football around with teammates after those games.
“They treat me like family,” Joey said. “I love them a lot. They mean a lot to me and I know I mean a lot to them.” Most recently, four Amherst football seniors made the trip to surprise Joey and see him earn his black belt in Karate.
“I don’t think the guys understand the power of the relationship they have with him,” Joey’s father, Joe Widman, reflected. “I wouldn’t trade that for the world. There is nothing I’d rather do than take Joey to an Amherst game and see the smile on his face.”
“I can’t imagine this road without the support of this team,” Joey’s mother, Nomi, added. “And it’s not just the team: there are coaches, wives of coaches, parents. To have an entire cheering section for your son–I don’t even have the words to describe it.”
Kevin Heller ’12 is a senior on the football team who’s known Joey for four years and most recently represented him and his team at a fundraiser for Friends of Jaclyn in New York City this winter that raised over $25,000 for the foundation.
“We really rally together around Joey,” he said. “He has been an inspiration to a bunch of 22 year old guys. It’s hard to imagine, but that’s exactly how it is. It has made football so much bigger than the rivalries on the field; it’s made me see life in a perspective that you should have all along.”
Amherst’s relationship with the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation is a strong example of a committed, sustainable relationship with a community engagement project. Moreover, the relationships formed through this organization reach far beyond the sidelines and have become life-changing, long-lasting friendships.
The athletics department heads up a fundraising race once a year for the foundation, which will take place this year on April 15. In the past three years, over a thousand Amherst student-athletes have participated in the race, which has raised over $15,000 for the foundation.
If you and your team is interested in participating in the race, contact Justin Serpone at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Reilly Horan ’13 is one of three Athletics Liaisons for the Center for Community Engagement. Athletics Liaisons connect athletes and coaches to the resources of the Center for Community Engagement and work to create a sustainable culture of service within the Athletics Department.
If your team is looking for community engagement projects, contact Roshard Bryant ’13 at email@example.com or Irene Hickey ’13 at firstname.lastname@example.org for advice and resources or visit their office hours in the Center for Community Engagement (in Keefe Campus Center) every Friday from 10am-12pm. If your team just completed a community engagement event, contact Reilly Horan ’13 at email@example.com so that the campus becomes more aware of what your team is doing to get involved.