Amherst Celebrates 5 Years of 'Friends of Jaclyn'

Contact: Reilly Horan ’13, CCE Athletics Liaison

Amherst College and the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation
formed a lasting relationship nearly five years ago.

AMHERST, Mass. – This spring will mark the fifth year that Amherst College has partnered with the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation to change the lives of children with pediatric brain tumors.

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. The founders, Denis and Lynda Murphy, started the program in 2005 after their daughter, Jaclyn, who suffered from a malignant brain tumor, forged a special and impactful friendship with the Northwestern Women’s Lacrosse team and wished for other kids to have the same opportunity.

Seven years later, the foundation has paired more than 300 children with sports teams across the country.  Three of Amherst College’s teams—men’s soccer, women’s lacrosse, and football—have adopted children through Friends of Jaclyn and 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 their daily lives. Conversely, the adopting team gains perspective and learns the immeasurable impact of even the smallest acts of kindness.

Amherst’s men’s soccer team adopted Michael—now 12 years old—in 2007. Michael has attended games and team dinners, and has even gotten the Lord Jeffs to run a soccer practice for his Cub Scout troop. “I really see it as giving Michael 25 big brothers who he looks up to and feels close to,” says Amherst men’s soccer head coach Justin Serpone. “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.”

The Friends of Jaclyn motto:
"Live in the moment...Play in the moment!"

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,” says Sucre. “We take a lot of pride in our friendship with him. Every time he gets to come here, it’s a big incentive for us to play well.”

In 2008 Amherst’s women’s lacrosse team adopted Torey, who is currently a senior in high school. “We feel very connected to Torey,” says Amherst head coach Chris Paradis, “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. She hangs out in the locker room with us, she’s got her own jersey, and we’ve gone on team hikes. We just brought her into our lacrosse family.”

Torey is in the midst of a college search that may land her close to her team. “We can relate to her on a personal level,” says team member Meaghan Tigh ’12. “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 an honorary teammate for four years. With an Amherst jersey and a football signed by the Lord Jeffs, Joey regularly exchanges emails with team members, frequents the sidelines of games, and sometimes gets to throw the football around with teammates after those games.

It is no coincidence that two of the most successful seasons in the Amherst football program’s history have come with Joey on the honorary roster. “They treat me like family,” Joey says. “I love them a lot. They mean a lot to me and I know I mean a lot to them.”

Amherst College will host the fourth annual
Friends of Jaclyn 5K Race/Walk on Apr. 15.

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, says. “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,” adds Joey’s mother, Nomi. “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.”

Earlier this winter in New York City, Kevin Heller ’12—a member of the Amherst football team—represented Joey and the Lord Jeffs at a Friends of Jaclyn fundraiser that brought in more than $25,000 for the foundation. “We rally together around Joey,” Heller says. “He’s been an inspiration to a bunch of 22-year-old guys. He makes football so much bigger than the rivalries on the field; he’s made me see life in a perspective that you should have all along.”

Amherst’s connection to 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 spread far past the sidelines and have become life-changing, long-lasting friendships.

The Amherst athletic department heads up a fundraising race once a year for the foundation, which will take place this year on Apr. 15. In the past three years, more than 1,000 Amherst student-athletes have participated in the Friends of Jaclyn 5K Race/Walk, which has raised more than $15,000 for the foundation.

If you and your team are interested in participating in this year's Friends of Jaclyn 5K Race/Walk, contact Justin Serpone 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 or Irene Hickey ’13 for advice and resources.
Or, visit them at the Keefe Campus Center during their office hours (Fridays, 10 a.m. to noon).

If your team just completed a community engagement event
, contact Reilly Horan ’13
so that the campus can become more aware of what your team is doing to get involved.