JACKSON – Township firefighters and police officers hit a home run when it came to raising funds for a good cause recently.
They faced off on the diamond in Lakewood but their aim wasn’t as much to bring home a trophy but to raise funds for Jake’s Got This, a township-based organization that aids children who have been diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
They engaged in some good-natured ball play on the field at Shore Town Ballpark for the first ever Jake’s Got This Special Friends Charity Softball Game.
The Jackson PBA softball team – appropriately dressed in a blue Jakes Got This (JGT) jersey – offered up around 15 players who are on the field each week. They play in a Jersey Shore police league and were ready for action.
All four Jackson fire departments had a group that donned a red version of the same jersey. Their team was made up of both volunteer and paid firefighters and junior members who were playing together for the first time to support the cause.
Police Officer Jeff Henba acknowledged there was a friendly rivalry between the police department and fire department teams prior to the game.
The two red and blue teams weren’t new to a friendly competitive rivalry. They previously played against each other at basketball courts and football games but this was their first time facing off in a softball game.
“Such a great time, so many smiles,” said Shannon Kulesa, who heads the Foundation. Her 9-year-old son, Jake, was diagnosed as having infant brain damage when he was only 13 months old.
“Here at the Jake’s Got This Foundation we look to provide guidance and recommendations from experience, help navigating the world of health insurance and support to families with children under the age of 18,” she added. “The Foundation looks to connect families with the resources they need, as well as other families who understand the daily struggles we face. We are always open to new ideas and therapies to help our kids get stronger each day.”
Funds raised from the softball game will help provide support and financial assistance, including therapy sessions for children diagnosed with cerebral palsy at an intensive program, the Key to CP, in Rochester, N.Y., where Jake received therapy, she added.
The first six innings were devoted to watching the men in blue vs. the men in red while the seventh inning stretch focused on raffles and then Jake’s ‘special friends’ came onto the field. Those are eight youngsters from the community who each have cerebral palsy or some sort of mobility disorder.
Jackson Police defeated the firefighters 7-0 and went on to play Jake’s team of special friends who then won their game against the police with a little help from the firemen.
“The police department did an awesome job playing against Jake’s team and making their game lots of fun to watch. So many of the kids on Jake’s team have never been given the opportunity to participate in something like this,” Kulesa said.
She added, “to be a part of a team like this, the smiles and laughs from the kids while playing were amazing. It completely brought a new side of the foundation to light for us. It’s not just about raising money to help with therapies and medical bills.”
Kulesa said the event was also about “creating fun inclusive community events special needs kids can join in, have fun and just be kids. Events like this are a much needed to have some family fun with friends in a positive atmosphere.”
“We were able to schedule the second of the three kids for their intensive therapy in NY. She’ll be going in just a few weeks. Our first girl Brooke just returned last week after a full week of intensive therapy. The changes were nothing shy of amazing,” Kulesa added. “The first day her posture and gait changed dramatically. By the end of the week, they had her standing independently using both hands to help make pancakes. Sounds simple, but for a girl who was never able to fully use one of her arms/hands to now be able to make breakfast and feed herself with that hand is incredible.”
Kulesa thanked the sponsors of the event who included: Amazing Athletes Sports Training, Garden State Fire, Kaye Pump Services, and Persons Farm and Greenhouses.
Around 8,000 children are born each year in the United States who receive a cerebral palsy diagnosis according to the JGT website.
Cost is the “barrier that keeps them from reaching their full potential even with medical insurance.” Kulesa said the JGT Foundation aims to remove that financial barrier so children with cerebral palsy can have access the necessary resources of therapeutic programs that have proven to be very successful.
“We are already excited for next year’s game already,” Kulesa said.