When we started the foundation for J.T. we didn’t realize how deeply it would enrich our lives. We hoped it would be a way to fulfill J.T.’s dream of “paying it forward”, giving back to the community that was inspired to help the Townsend family when their lives were turned upside-down that fall Friday in 2004, the night Episcopal HS Football player J.T. Townsend took a near fatal hit on the field. We never realized how clearly God would provide confirmation it was all His plan.

When the inspiration came to me, He must have smiled. This Christmas I realized how long He had been preparing us. It was not by accident we moved from Tampa to Ponte Vedra Beach all those years ago….right next door to Fred Funk, the pro golfer who introduced Tommy and I to J.T. Or that we would form the Funk’s Punks and bring that group of supporters to help J.T.

We prayed for a mission and a vision for this foundation. He gave us the mission of helping children and adults living with disabilities on the First Coast, and to help with funding important spinal cord injury research.

We prayerfully prepared a rough draft of how to structure the foundation. This was the platform upon which we began and upon which we operate today.

And, we prayed God would give us the names of the people He would have in each Board position. It is now clear how He was also preparing the hearts of more than just Tommy and me.

Lynda Masulli, JT and Judi Z
Lynda Masulli, JT and Judi Z

The day of the Christmas Tree Tour at the Masulli’s I realized He had also been at work on Lynda and Rich. It was obvious He had taken their passionate hobby of collecting beautiful artesian Christmas ornaments,decorating their beautiful home with them then turned it into a way to fund the foundation. What might have appeared to some as an extravagant hobby, now is a true sense of giving. And, the Masulli’s want to continue this event annually and look for ways to make the event even more successful. They see God’s hand in this. They too are giving back. And the blessings they receive continue to multiply filling their hearts with thanksgiving and willingness to do more.

Scott and Kelly Winer are another couple who work diligently to help make our foundation a success. Scott is a CPA who has worked on other non-profits as Treasurer. He runs our books. Kelly, has a background in rehabilitation and health care. She uses this knowledge to help on the foundation “Giving” committee. Both have necessary skills to make this foundation run financially sound and to insure the clients receive what they need from a medical standpoint. It is not be accident they found themselves on the same path as we. In fact, I first met Kelly when she styled Lindsay’s wedding with Liza Chung, another Board member whom God strategically placed in front of me. Kelly often visits the homes of our clients and shares with us how the things we provide enrich the lives of all of the family members and of the appreciation they express.

Kelly also brought us a Physical Therapist, Eric Mason. Eric provides valuable insight for our approval process. Eric is able to determine if the equipment they are requesting will be medically beneficial for them and cost effective for us. He encourages his patients and other Physical Therapists who have patients with disabilities to apply with us for items their medical insurance denies.

Liza Chung comes to us with a vast background in event planning and has many local contacts. She is the perfect person to conduct a brainstorming session, using her creativity to determine the best way to put an event together. It is not by chance Liza and I met three years ago planning an event.

Lisa Craig, who joined our board recently has years of experience in the corporate world. As Public Relations Manager for Weight Watchers she knows how to put a story together and pitch it to the media. Those skills were utilized promoting this years Christmas Tree Tour. J.T. and I were on four local television channels promoting the event thanks to her hard work and contact list. I am happy to say, Lisa is also my very dearest friend and has literally walked with me throughout this entire journey. She has a passion for JT and others with disabilities and shares her talents to make their world a better place.

It is not by chance Lizzie Danner, also on our marketing committee, attended school with J.T.. Lizzie runs her own non-profit to raise funding for ALS research. She has an uncle who lives with the debilitating disease. Lizzie works tirelessly keeping our contact list up to date and preparing press releases and print collateral.

Every successful foundation today utilizes social media to get the word out about what we are doing and the events we hold to keep us funded. It is not by chance that Michael Lewis Jr. grew up living near Fred Funk and attended Episcopal with J.T. Michael’s expertise is in the field of social media and works hard to develop and maintain our web site, Facebook pages and Twitter account.

This is just a snapshot of how God given talents of some of our twenty volunteer board members came to us,taken from a secular world and used for His plan.

J.T. and with "Santa" (First Coast Living's Nick Loren) makes smiles appear.
J.T. and with “Santa” (First Coast Living’s Nick Loren) makes smiles appear.

What this foundation has meant to J.T. Townsend is certainly larger than he could have dreamed. He personally delivers every piece of equipment to each client and visits with them leaving them with renewed hope. They see first hand what J.T. has been able to do while living life from a wheelchair. For two years J.T. has delivered toys to very sick children at Nemours Children’s Clinic. These families are strapped with medical expenses making a Christmas gift very much appreciated. J.T. is often asked to share his inspiring story before groups. And, is working diligently to complete his studies at UNF with a degree in Sports Management. He will begin an Internship with The Wounded Warrior Project in January, 2013 the final class required for his graduation. As the President of JTTF he overseas daily operation and strategizes the course for growth of his foundation. This is a dream come true. But, J.T. gives God the glory for all of it. He realizes God’s plan was even bigger than the one he himself had for his life.

Those of us who have seen how one piece of adaptive equipment can make the day a little bit easier for a caregiver and give the patient a little taste of independence in a world where so much is relied on from others, understands the depth of what we are doing. Each client brings with them a compelling story of need, sacrifice and oceans of love. We have become connected with them in a very special way. We feel as if we are all a part of one large community family and it feels so very good for all of us.

We say we are in the “miracle business”. We can take a frown and turn it into a smile.

We truly believe.

Tommy, Judi and our friend – J.T. Townsend

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