Coughlin: Helping families tackling childhood cancer ‘puts things in perspective.’

Coughlin: Helping families tackling childhood cancer ‘puts things in perspective’

The Florida Times-Union

Beth Reese Cravey

March 16, 2013 3:14 AM EDT

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For the past few weeks, Tom Coughlin has been making the national media rounds plugging his new book about how to achieve success.

After guiding the New York Giants to two Super Bowl wins, he knows the topic.

But he’s just as proud of the achievements of the Jay Fund Foundation as he is of his wins on the football field. He founded the Jacksonville-based nonprofit as Jaguars coach in 1996 to help families tackling childhood cancer. In 2012 alone, the fund helped 344 families in Northeast Florida and New York.

“It’s a great experience,” he said this week. “It puts things in perspective.”

Coughlin, who has homes in New Jersey and Atlantic Beach, said he is grateful for the community support the Jay Fund has enjoyed in Northeast Florida, even since his Jaguars coaching stint ended in 2002.

“The support has been incredible,” he said. “People believe in the sincerity of the cause … We have been so fortunate, but we have more work to do.”

Coughlin was in Jacksonville Friday to host his annual Wine Tasting Gala benefit, which last year raised $255,000 for the Jay Fund. He also visited one of the fund’s latest projects, a soon-to-be-completed teen recreation room at Wolfson Children’s Hospital, toured Wolfson’s pediatric oncology unit and met with children undergoing treatment and their families.

A family like them was the inspiration for the Jay Fund.

Jay McGillis played for Coughlin during his first year coaching at Boston College in 1991. During that football season, McGillis was diagosed with leukemia and died eight months later. The courage he showed and the physical, emotional and financial strains his illness caused the McGillis family prompted Coughlin to want to help other families with children battling cancer.

The first fundraiser was a celebrity golf tournament in 1996, which became an annual event. The 2012 tournament raised $347,000.

“I knew what I wanted to do, to give back, but I didn’t know what format it would be,” Coughlin, now 65, said. “We’re in the land of golf, so let’s try this. The first year we were humbled in what we earned. I felt good about it.”

In the 17 years since, the Jay Fund has provided thousands of families with grants to pay mortgages, utility and food bills, helped them manage their finances and sent patients and survivors to college. Also, the nonprofit has provided emotional support, grants for therapy and fun activities for families such as touring the Jaguars or Giants facilities and meeting players.

One of those families was Matthew and Donna Walters of Yulee, who son Jason, 7, has leukemia.

“For the first year … our family received help from the Jay Fund for our expenses so we could get by. They really helped us to survive through a difficult crisis,” Matthew Walters said. “Jason has had the opportunity to have fun in a safe environment at their events and we have built camaraderie with other parents, too.”

Keli Coughlin, one of Tom and Judy Coughlin’s four children, has been executive director of the Jay Fund since 2004. She started out as a volunteer in 1998, primarily planning the annual golf tournament.

“That gave me the opportunity to spend time with the families the Jay Fund serves, and I became passionate about doing more to help,” she said this week. “These families are up against so many challenges, and I wanted the Jay Fund to be in a position to provide any help they may need, financial or otherwise.”

Since becoming executive director, she said, she has “placed an emphasis on providing not only emergency financial assistance, but also other support such as financial planning tools, fun events for parents and kids and grants for psychological and art therapy.”

Such therapy, she said, is “designed to relieve some of the burdens that families with children with cancer are facing.”

Jay Fund money raised in Northeast Florida goes to local families, the same goes for Giants-area fundraisers. In 2012 the Jay Fund raised about $2.5 million, including $1.5 million raised in Jacksonville. Of every dollar donated, 93 cents goes to families.

“It’s gotten to be much bigger and much more helpful to the families that need us,” Tom Coughlin said. “We continue to develop finding ways that we can help.”

They get new ideas from the same doctors, hospital staff and social workers who connect them with families in crisis. One of those ideas led to the teen recreation room at Wolfson. The hospital already had a similar space for children — Timmy’s Playroom, funded by the Tim Tebow Foundation — but nothing customized for older youth.

“They make recommendations, we take them to the board,” he said. “It all comes from relationships.”

Coughlin maintains close ties to Northeast Florida through those relationships and through his family. Keli Coughlin lives in Atlantic Beach, brother Brian lives in Jacksonville; the other Coughlin children, Tim Coughlin and Kate Snee, whose husband plays for the Giants, live in Franklin Lakes, N.J. The four of them have produced 11 grandchildren.

Coughlin also remains close to the McGillis family, who attend the celebrity golf tournament every year.

“They’re so happy the spirit of Jay is alive and well,” he said.

Beth Reese Cravey: (904) 359-4109


To donate, volunteer or get more information, contact the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund at P.O. Box 50798 Jacksonville Beach, FL 32240-0798, (904) 543-2599 or toll free at (866) 538-6331 or go to The nonprofit’s signature fundraiser is the annual Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Celebrity Golf Classic, which pairs participants with sports, media and other notables. The 2013 classic will be May 19-20 at TPC Sawgrass.