This is a story of love, commitment, sorrow, and community...this is the story of the Readys. Bridget and Paul Ready lived happily in sunny San Luis Obispo, California with their 3 children, ages 6, 10, and 12. Paul, a successful attorney, and Bridget, a school teacher trained in special education and teacher of the year for her local school district, were content with their lives, their family, and their community. Then a good life got even better. In 2001, Bridget gave birth to the couple's fourth child, Jack. A healthy baby, Jack had the highest apgar score (a test used to determine the health of newborns) and showed no signs of being anything other than a happy baby boy. The family welcomed their newest addition with open arms.
A seasoned mother having already raised 3 babies, Bridget was confident and capable, something that helped her to notice when things with Jack changed. When he was just 3 and a half months old, Jack suddenly began crying differently. These weren't the cries of a hungry baby, or even of a sick baby, they were something entirely different and new to Bridget. Within 24 hours, the Readys' healthy baby boy began to shut down.
With a healthy pregnancy and early childhood behind him, and no cancer in their family, Jack was diagnosed in the hospital with a brain tumor from a rare form of cancer. He left in a helicopter with his mother and headed for Stanford, where they were better equipped to treat babies with his illness. Bridget did not return to her home in San Luis Obispo, California for 6 and a half months, with the exception of a brief visit on Christmas day. After those 6 and a half months, Jack and his mother returned to their home, but still made bi-weekly trips to Stanford (over 3 hours away) for various treatments and tests.
Throughout it all, Jack remained a happy baby boy. Doctors were amazed at his love for life in spite of his unusual circumstances for a child of his young age. Spending so much time away from family and in hospitals and with doctors is trying for a person of any age, yet this baby boy kept smiling through it all. This was the first lesson Jack had to teach those around him. He was able to celebrate life and love every moment of it during his short time here. But the lessons that Jack had for his family and his community were just beginning to be realized.
At the age of 3, in 2004, Jack left the planet all too soon. But his parents had come so far and learned so much in just 3 short years of having a special needs child. The main thing they learned was that, although they loved the benefits of living in a smaller and friendlier community, it also came with its drawbacks. San Luis Obispo is in a county that is deemed 'rural'. This means that the reimbursement rate from insurance companies for things like treatment, testing and therapeutic equipment is less. It also means that there is no children's hospital and no specialized care available, leaving families with an ill or disabled child with no option but to travel outside of the area for treatment, whether or not they have the means to do so.
When Jack left his body, there were four children is his community waiting for his walker. Over 10 others were waiting for his hearing aid. This hit home for Jack's parents. The community that they loved, the people that had been so involved in their struggle with Jack and had rallied around them so that they never felt alone, had a desperate need that was not being met. They realized that there were other families, other neighbors, who needed help. This was the impetus for Jack's Helping Hand.
“San Luis Obispo is in a county that is deemed 'rural'. This means that the reimbursement rate from insurance companies for things like treatment, testing and therapeutic equipment is less. It also means that there is no children's hospital and no specialized care available…”
Begun in 2005, Jack's Helping Hand has done many great works in just 4 short years. There proven track record has demonstrated to the community that there truly is a need that must be met to take care of these children within their community. Jack's Helping Hand only works with local families, something that enables them to keep the organization more grass roots and allows people to see the good that they do within the community around them. It also enables them to keep it somewhat smaller, having no paid executives, no office space to rent and only volunteer staff ensures that all of the money goes directly where it is needed. In order to apply for aid, families must be referred by a physician, a therapist or an organization like California Children's Services and must fill out an application. The money is paid directly to the providers, ensuring that it all goes where intended.
This small organization has done many big things. Aside from the very important work of helping families pay for transportation to hospitals, speech therapists, hearing aids, glasses, and prosthetic limbs, Jack's Helping Hand has also donated the Jack Ready Therapy Room to the local medical center, providing a local space where children in need of specific physical therapy equipment can come and thereby eliminating some of the need for out-of-area travel. Another major project for the organization is the Jack Ready Imagination Park. Currently being designed, the park will provide a place for special needs children to play on recreational equipment that is designed to meet their needs. The 30-acre park will also include a therapeutic riding center and will be completely wheelchair accessible.
Jack's Helping Hand has spread throughout the community in many ways, including by word of mouth. One of the organization's earlier recipients, Owen Beck, is now spreading the gift of a prosthetic limb that he received after losing his leg to bone cancer. He has been meeting with an 8 year old boy who will be receiving a prosthetic leg from the organization. An inspiration to us all, Beck, now a university student with a promising future ahead of him, gives this boy the gift of hope by showing how much an organization like Jack's Helping Hand has changed his life.
“It's a lonely world when you have a very sick or special needs child”, Bridget Ready admits. “But”, she reminds us, “it allows people to be at their best”. A lesson that stems from the legacy of Jack Ready, a 3 year old who continues to teach his community and everyone touched by the organization that began in his honor that life is precious and that we all have to take care of each other. Especially in these trying economic times, families with children in need are requiring more help than ever. Jack's Helping Hand is a chance for everyone to lend their hand and do something good for the world.
To learn more about Jack's Helping Hand and what you can do to help visit www.jackshelpinghand.org.
Thank you Bridget & Paul, for sharing Jack's Story with us.
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(c) 2009 by Cara Moorehead and Story of My Life®
These are some of the children the organization has already helped: