Cactus Jack Foundation continues to spread holiday cheer

Waterford — There is a certain mystique that belies the simplicity of the phrase: good people doing good things.

And that's not only the vocation, but ought to be the slogan for the Cactus Jack Foundation, a bunch of local sports guys whose benevolence has morphed into its own parcel of heroism here in this season of giving in 2018.

The Cactus Jack guys have promised to match up to $5,000 to any contributions made to a number of local organizations between now and Jan. 1. That means whatever we give, they give.

"It's really unbelievable," said Dani Gorman, who runs Waterford Youth Services, one of the places chosen. "Their generosity just goes beyond expectation. Cactus Jack always comes through at the most difficult time of people's needs."

The foundation, founded in 1989 (beginning with a softball tournament) has given more than $190,000 since 2015 to people in the region affected by cancer, house fires and death. People who need help with rent and mortgage payments, home oil and gas. Walmart cards, Stop & Shop cards and even a Waterford High School scholarship, all with a touch of humanity.

"It's more than writing checks," Gorman said. "It's knowing people by name."

The foundation has chosen quite the lineup: Safe Futures, Girls On The Run, Championship Rounds, Waterford Youth Services, Miracle League Field of Southeastern Connecticut and a new aquarium at Clark Lane Middle School for the benefit of special needs students.

Cactus Jack will match whatever the aforementioned organizations receive between now and Jan. 1, meaning that they could be rolling in as much as $10,000 apiece.

A primer on where the money would go:

• Safe Futures, which helps families affected by domestic violence and sexual assault, has educational programs in 31 different schools in the region, teaching kids about healthy relationships, teen violence, bullying and restorative practices.

"We are dedicated to expanding this to 10 more schools," executive director Katherine Verano said.

• Girls On The Run is a national, 10-week program in the spring for girls in grades three through five that inspires them to be "joyful, healthy and confident," culminating with a 5K in May, a community service project and overall growth within an athletic component.

Cactus Jack has proposed money for Claude Chester School in Groton, Winthrop and Jennings in New London and Stanton in Norwich. The money raised would all but eliminate the need for anything out-of-pocket for kids in Norwich, Groton and New London, which won't be confused with the privileges bestowed to youngins from Greenwich, New Canaan and Darien.

• Championship Rounds, run out of the Whaling City Athletic Club, is home to Adaptive Boxing, a program helping people afflicted with Parkinson's manage the neurodegenerative disease in the ring — of each other, for each other and by each other — swinging away at their ailments one punch at a time.

Shannon Brenek, who works within the organization, said the money would be used to add staff and equipment to help the now 20 people in the program live better lives. There isn't much more important work happening in our region.

"This is the new medicine," East Lyme-based orthopedic surgeon Dr. Frank Maletz said. "Conventional medical wisdom says all the neurons and brain cells you're ever going to get are present at birth — and once you lose something it's gone forever. Wrong, wrong, wrong. The brain can rewire for a lifetime.

"What's happening with Kent (program founder Kent Ward) and this program is different than physical therapy and occupational therapy. We're doing things to guide patients to rewire their brains. It's the concept of neuroplasticity. We have a guy in the Parkinson's gym that was told by a respected neurologist that after his stroke, his inability to speak, left paralyzed arm and left paralyzed leg was the end of the road. He's walking without a cane now and punching with his left arm."

• Gorman said Waterford Youth Services will help families and residents of all ages with home heating oil.

"Lots of families who are working don't qualify for an energy assistance program," Gorman said. "This would allow a lot of homes to be heated."

• Dave Putnam, who runs East Lyme Park and Recreation, is also the executive director for the Miracle League of Southeastern Connecticut, a $550,000 project which will give East Lyme an all-sports facility for children with physical, cognitive and developmental challenges.

"The money would go to construction of the field," Putnam said.

Clearly, the Cactus Jack guys — Dan Pickett, Tim Gigliotti, John Ryan, Jack Voelker, Tim Arsenault, David Sutera, Rick Beaney, Steve Bellos, Chris Muckle, Tim Jeffery and Mike Buscetto — have put some thought into places of need.

"If we can help people, that's what it's all about," Pickett said.

"We're thankful to all the people who donate to Cactus Jack," Buscetto said, "and thankful people trust us."

Here are some links if people would like to donate: (safe futures) https://www.safefuturesct.org/giving/donate; (girls on the run) https://www.gotrsect.org/Donate; (miracle league) http://miracleleaguect.org/donate; (cactus jack) http://www.cactusjackfoundation.org/donate.html.

Those interested in the Clark Lane Aquarium project can e-mail principal Jim Sachs at jsachs@waterfordschools.org. Championship Rounds and Waterford Youth Services support may be made by dropping off checks on site or at Filomenas.

Whatever you can give.

Then we can all contribute to the Cactus Jack Foundation in the best we possible: as good people doing good things.

Tis the season.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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