Tom (left), Shawn (right) and Jake (center), namesake for Camp Jake
Trying to find the right words to describe last week's Camp Jake reception in New Orleans has proven to be considerably more difficult than anticipated! The event was more than a great evening, more than camaraderie, more than fun.
It was an emotional high!
Tom—Camp Jake director and Red Thread board member—and Shawn graciously hosted the event in their loft, a beautiful space that more than accommodated the 50+ people who came to show their support of The Red Thread Promise. Every detail was meticulously ironed out, from the tabletop clean-burning fireplace to the sea salt organic dark chocolate truffles to the rooftop space overlooking the brilliantly lit Superdome. A continuous loop of photographs from Haiti and St. Vincent's played in the media room while people mingled, ate and laughed. The vibe was a refreshing blend of sophistication and Southern hospitality with a modern twist.
While wonderful, all of these things aren't what made the evening so memorable. It was the people, gathered to meet our guest of honor, 14-year-old Jake Richard.
Even with the serious health challenges that his muscular dystrophy continually poses, his parents, René and Stephanie, drove him from Houston to New Orleans to spend the evening with us. What a dynamic and inspiring young man!
As Jake maneuvered his motorized wheelchair from the elevator into the loft, he certainly made a brilliant first impression. Having been apprised of his love for all things orange, he boldly sported the brightest orange sneakers in current history and an orange checkered button down shirt atop the first Camp Jake t-shirt with his name ablaze in—you guessed it—orange.
With impeccable manners, he greeted each new face, graciously answered everyone's questions and spent as much time as necessary with each guest. As we spoke with him, his positive outlook on life was apparent. He posed for photos for anyone wielding a camera and we were able to capture his signature smile time and time again with different guests.
After enjoying hors 'devours and mingling, Tom shared the brief story about the inspiration for Camp Jake. While attending a summer camp for children with muscular dystrophy with Jake years ago, Tom felt his heart begin to change. The experience was so profound that he embraced that change and, on New Year's Eve of the same year, decided to stop just writing checks to charities. He made a promise to himself to take a hands on approach to his philanthropy and never looked back. He and Jake shared a dream to provide a similar experience to other children with disabilities, specifically those who would not otherwise have the opportunity.
Following several mission trips to Haiti with The Red Thread, the students at St. Vincent's Center for Handicapped Children emerged as the perfect fit for the concept. Soon after, the idea had a name and a face: Camp Jake.
René, Jake's father, also shared a few words on his son's behalf. He told how, at a young age, Jake had been able to do nearly everything that his two older brothers could do: run, play, and all things "boy". As he grew, they knew that something wasn't right and Jake was eventually diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a rare and progressive disease that involves rapid degeneration of the muscles with a life expectancy in the late teens.
Tom, Stephanie (Jake's mother) and Jake
Jake's wish has always been to make a difference in the lives of other people who may have lost hope due to a disability. He has taken his wish to heart by working with the Muscular Dystrophy Association as a Goodwill Ambassador, attending fundraisers and media events, and being featured on the national MDA Telethon. He and his mother run 5k, 10k and half marathons together, evoking the spirit of their motto “Always look on the bright side of life.”
It is with this tenacious spirit that seven volunteer counselors will join 35 disabled orphans at St. Vincent's in January 2012, providing each child with an opportunity to wholly experience the motto that the camp's namesake, Jake Richard, lives by each day of his life.
This beautiful and inspirational evening will remain in our memory for years to come.