Shortly after Tom Coughlin was hired by the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars in 1995, he began to consult with those in the know about potentially creating a foundation to help the families of those struggling with childhood cancer after one of his players at Boston College, Jay McGillis, contracted Leukemia and later passed away.
Out of that, the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Foundation was officially born in 1996 and served the Greater Jacksonville Metropolitan area until Coughlin was dismissed following the 2002 season.
At the time, there was concern that Coughlin’s departure from the Jaguars would put the Jay Fund Foundation at risk, but the coach maintained that he would continue to support the organization and keep it in Jacksonville, where contributions impressively increased.
Not only did the Jay Fund Foundation thrive in Jacksonville, but Coughlin was later hired as head coach of the New York Giants, providing him with an opportunity for expansion.
In October of 2004, a New York City branch to the Jay Fund Foundation was born, with the first fundraiser coming in September of 2005, where a remarkable $1 million was raised right out of the gate.
Throughout Coughlin’s time as Giants head coach, the Jay Fund Foundation continued to thrive, just as it was in Jacksonville, eventually becoming a 4-star organization (Charity Navigator ratings) that not only improved the lives of cancer patients and their families, but actually saved the lives of those suffering.
In 2015 however, Coughlin and the Giants parted ways and again there was concern over support for the Foundation.
The Giants never wavered and despite their split with Coughlin, continued to support and promote the Jay Fund Foundation. Players regularly appeared at charity events and fundraisers, while the team continued to promote such events.
With the Jay Fund Foundation now nearing its 25th anniversary, Coughlin penned an emotion thank you to the Giants organization, some of his former Giants players and all of New York for the continued love and support of a cause he holds so dear.
“They say gratitude is a great multiplier. In my seventy plus years, I can confirm this is one of life’s great truths. During my twelve years as head coach of the New York Giants, and in the past few years since my departure, I’ve had time to reflect on the great friendships I made and the incredible support I and my foundation, the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund, have and continue to receive from the owners, players, the front office staff, and the passionate fans,” Coughlin wrote in an open letter shared with Giants Wire through the Jay Fund Foundation.
“As the foundation prepares to mark 25 years of helping local families tackle childhood cancer, I want to pause and say thank you to the Mara and Tisch families, Pat Hanlon, Allison Stangeby, and the many individuals, players, and coaches, and everyone in between who have shared their time, energy, and financial support with our families. I don’t think you can truly imagine the depths of these families’ gratitude or mine.
“According to the American Childhood Cancer Organization, ‘83.5% of families with a child with cancer will experience some level of financial hardship.’ Parents can feel alone in their child’s cancer fight. That’s really why our work is so important. No one fights this disease alone. It takes a team.
“I’ve witnessed many players step off the field and into the lives of some of their most ardent fans they never knew they had. I’ve watched how the cheered football hero became the cheerleader for a child who needed that extra support and encouragement during treatments. And I’ve seen how players can light up a child’s face by just spending a few moments with them.
“I will never forget how Zak DeOssie became a cheerleader for then eight-year-old Jasie. Jasie’s smile and her infectious high-pitched voice lit up the room. She was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma when she was just seven-years-old, and a once active young lady, soon became confined to a wheel chair. Zak visited with Jasie in the hospital and the two became fast friends. Any Jay Fund event Jasie and her family attended, she was always asking about Zak. In 2018, we invited her to our Champions for Children gala. She declined the invitation because cancer had worn down her self-confidence. Her mother told us Jasie wasn’t feeling beautiful. When Zak heard this, he led an effort at the gala to capture attendees’ video well wishes for his friend. The video brought Jasie’s beautiful smile across her face. Sadly, we lost Jasie, spring 2019. Thank you, Zak for being there for Jasie.
“And then there’s Mark Herzlich who found a fan and friend in a little boy named Joey. Joey was a scared seven-year-old when I first met him and his mom in December 2016. Who wouldn’t be scared if they had just been told they had cancer? Lucky for me, Joey liked football and the Giants. I made a call to Herzlich and asked him if he would visit with Joey in the hospital. Mark didn’t hesitate, and within minutes of meeting Joey, Mark had a new friend, and Joey had an inspiration. In fact, Joey was so inspired by Mark that as Joey began to lose his hair because of the cancer treatments, Joey fashioned what was left into a mohawk to look like Herzlich. Today, Joey is doing much better and he will always look back on his cancer journey knowing Mark was part of his team. Thank you, Mark.
“The stories are countless, but they all end the same: in gratitude. Alice Walker wrote, ‘Thank you is the best prayer anyone can say.’ I sincerely hope everyone in the New York Giants organization knows how many prayers have been said for them by so many cancer patients and families. We could not have done the good work we’ve done for our New York and New Jersey families if it had not been for you. As we close the chapter on these past 25 years and begin a new one, I know our families can continue to count on you, and I remain forever grateful for your support.”
The Jay Fund Foundation is something we can all get behind, so if you’d like to contribute or volunteer, be sure to check their website for further information and follow them on both Twitter and Facebook.
Thank you Tom Coughlin and thank you Jay Fund Foundation for blessing these children and their families with much-needed support in their darkest hours.