When Westfield native Paul Jackson passed away in February of 2009, his last wish was for the life-changing work he'd begun to continue.
Jackson, who had spent the last 20 years of his life paralyzed following surgery to remove a tumor from his spinal cord at the age of 28, made it his mission to return the generosity and kindness that had been shown to him during his time of need.
When faced with mounting medical bills for a rehabilitation program his insurance wouldn't cover, Jackson's family, friends and neighbors created The Paul Jackson Fund to raise the funds necessary to improve his condition.
As Jackson's health stabilized, he began managing the Fund. A tax-exempt charity that serves as a resource of last resort for individuals and families facing a financial crisis due to a debilitating "long term" illness or disability, the Fund provides grants to qualifying individuals in the tri-state area for health-related and household needs.
The Paul Jackson Fund is interested in spreading its philanthropic message by reaching out to area high school students who would be willing to start Paul Jackson Fund clubs at their schools. The Fund is seeking guidance and input from teens to figure out the best way to collaborate to develop unique fundraising ideas.
The informational session will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 31 at the Fund's 223 Elmer Street location.
What separates The Paul Jackson Fund from other charities, explained the Fund's Mary Doherty, is that volunteers know the impact of their work.
"They know exactly who they're helping and how," said Doherty, whose office is decorated with posters that share the stories of the individuals who have benefited from the Fund as well as thank you notes from those who have been helped by it.
Doherty hopes students will connect with the charity especially ahead of the Fund's major fundraiser, the 3rd Annual Paul Jackson 5K at Oak Ridge Park in Clark, which will be held at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, October 14.
Middle and high school students volunteered at the Fund last fall. "It was a sea of red," said Doherty describing the gift bags that the children stuffed. "The kids love to help and they formed almost a conga line as they put coupons, pens and water bottles in the bags."
Doherty explained that the informational session is open not only to Westfield students but also teens from surrounding towns who might be interested in starting a club at their high schools as well. Teens can also begin thinking about running individually or forming teams for the upcoming 5K. Students are also welcome to volunteer before and during the run.
With a goal of raising $25,000, the Fund will be using FirstGiving, an online fundraising site, for the first time. Free to users, the site will offer runners a chance to create their own personal page and share their reasons for participating in the event.
"It's not easy to ask for money and some people aren't comfortable soliciting," Doherty said. "This makes it easy on both ends. You can send this out through email, Facebook or LinkedIn. You can give on the site publicly or remain anonymous and you can send a quote like 'Good luck!'"
Doherty said the enthusiasm and willingness to help that she has seen in the teens who have volunteered in the past makes her believe establishing the clubs in local high schools will be a perfect fit.
"They will see the impact of their work; they will know where every dollar is going," she said. "If we could bottle the emotion--if everyone could see what we see when that burden has been lifted for a short period of time for a family, it is a beautiful thing."
For more information, visit The Paul Jackson Fund's website.
Check back with Patch for more information about The Paul Jackson 5K as the run gets closer.