A local non-profit charity, Jack’s Helping Hand (JHH), netted $187,000 at a sold-out July 9 fundraiser to help special needs children.

The event, a barbecue held in Santa Margarita, included an auction, live music and 650 attendees. It sold out a month before the event, showing the local community’s passion for helping children in need.

JHH started after founders Paul and Bridget Ready lost their son Jack in November 2004. Jack fought brain cancer for three years, requiring his parents to learn the difficulties of having a child with disabilities.

Mary Illingworth, the director of JHH, said JHH helps families with special needs children to afford expenses, especially for parents needing to travel to get their children treatment.

“We don’t have any pediatric specialists in our county,” Illingworth said. “Most of the children that are seriously ill have to go to San Francisco or (Los Angeles) or Cottage (Children’s) hospital in Santa Barbara. When they have to go back and forth three times a month, that’s get expensive, so we help with gas cards, we help with Ronald McDonald House, (and other services). Anything that’s not provided by another source or exceeds the family’s financial capability.”

Illingworth said the money netted from the event, after expenses, will help with these assistance programs and go to the organization’s other services.

These services include “Mommy and Me Little Swimmers,” which allows mothers and their children to participate in water activities that foster both physical and social development according to the charity’s website, and “Jack’s Yoga for Teens.”

JHH also has a program for parents of children with cancer to meet each other and share their stories.

In addition, the money will go to JHH’s Toy Lending Library, which offers parents with special needs children to borrow “adaptive” toys for their children to play with.

Illingworth said the libraries have a multitude of toys for parents to borrow because the toys can cost “one to two to three hundred dollars per toy.”

Erin Kellogg, a nanny for a disabled child, said having a place to borrow toys helps curb young children’s natural and eventual boredom with toys.

Though Kellogg said the parents of the children she watches have never used any of JHH’s services, she feels having them available are “amazingly great.”

“Seeing how expensive these toys can be and how quickly the kids bore of them, I love the idea that someone offers parents to just borrow them,” Kellogg said. “Now I know if I ever have any kids with disabilities, I will have people to help me through because it can be really hard.”

Illingworth said JHH is in the process of attaining permits to develop Jack Ready’s Imagination Park in Nipomo. She said the park will allow children with and without disabilities to play together.

“It’s a universally acceptable park and that means that the playground (allows for) typical kids and kids with disabilities can play side by side instead of kids with disabilities sitting and watching,” Illingworth said.

Jennifer Guastaferro, a liberal studies senior and teacher’s assistant at the ASI Children’s Center, said the park sounded like a an awesome idea, though she also said she did not have much experience with disabled children.

“I have never seen a park built specifically for disabled children, so I think this would be a great opportunity for these children to interact and play with other children,” Guastaferro said. “I also think it’s a great idea because taking care of a disabled child can be really expensive, and this way parents can bring their children to a place that is free where they can have fun in an appropriate environment.”

Illingworth said when the park starts becoming developed, she hopes that Cal Poly students will volunteer and help in the development.

She said also JHH has worked with PolyHouse, an organization on campus that recently remodeled a home for a family with a special needs child and, according to its website, “allows students the opportunity to learn project planning and management skills while exposing them to the benefits of community service.”

Illingworth said she looked forward to working with Cal Poly students again.

“Whenever we work with kids from Cal Poly, it’s been good,” Illingworth said.

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