Welcome Jay Ell + Kira to CJSTUF!

The CJSTUF crew is expanding! We are excited to announce that we have a new Graphic Designer and Marketing and Communications Lead that will assist with our social media, visuals and awareness in the community! Please join me in welcoming Jay Ell Alexander and Kira Jenkins to the team! Give them a CJ’s Thumbs Up!

Jay Ell Alexander

Jay Ell Alexander has established herself as a public relations and communications professional with a true commitment to community engagement through her passion for public relations. She is the owner of The Vaughn Strategy and also serves as the Owner/CEO of Black Girls RUN!, after serving as their brand manager for six years. Alexander has worked in the communications industry since 2008 including positions with the United States Department of Agriculture, BET, City of Richmond, City of Petersburg, The Balm In Gilead and Bank of America. A native of Norfolk, Va., Mrs. Alexander graduated from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications with a concentration in Journalism and minor in Spanish. She also received a Master of Science degree in Strategic Public Relations from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va. Mrs. Alexander has a passion for running, loves shopping and traveling. She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and the Public Relations Society of American Richmond chapter. She resides in Richmond, Va. with her husband, Chris, son Chris Jr. and their dog, Luna.

Kira Jenkins

Since childhood, Kira Jenkins has been passionate about art, including photography, painting, and drawing. In 1998 Kira moved to Richmond and started the road to her career in Graphic Design. Knowing that she wanted to do something creative with her professional life, Kira started taking art and design classes at J. Sargent Reynolds and soon was offered a scholarship to the University of Mount Olive, where she worked as the teacher aide for the Art department while earning her degree in Visual Communications. Working closely with the professors in the art department at Mount Olive gave Kira a deep understanding of different aesthetics, and this experience gave her the ability to be a team player to create assets from print to digital to meet her client needs. Her experience and background include a diverse client base within various industries, such as non-profit, event promotion, and car dealerships. She loves all aspects of branding because she knows how personal it is and how it helps bring life and personality to one’s business. When she’s not cooking up new designs, she loves spending her time traveling with her family and hiking.

Happy Birthday Charlotte!

Happy birthday, baby girl. Missing you like crazy. There are some things I will never forget.

Tomorrow (July 9th) is Charlotte’s birthday. As we remember the amazing little girl who inspired CJSTUF’s mission, CJ’s mama adds her own reflections for this year. Check out Rachel’s blog post today at the link in our bio! 

https://iseewhatyoumeme.blogspot.com/2020/07/remembering-normal.html?fbclid=IwAR1yq9J8Iu5YeynIDegjvL8oz1NLpR4mYB4-AQoMpQlJ1VXHL-zBMPGVQug

Time for the Annual Reposting of the “Disney Letter” –2017 version

Seven years ago, we took a trip.  And seven years ago, I wrote a letter.  Here it is, again, for all to read.  This was the trip where a muse touched me on the shoulder and I first told Charlotte Jennie that she was a caterpillar and that she would soon become a beautiful butterfly and fly away from us.

Remembering our Make-A-Wish trip alternately lifts me up and tears my guts out but remembering the magic of it all helps keep me connected to Charlotte’s memory.

February 12, 2010
Disney World Corp.
Magic Kingdom Guest Services
311 World Drive
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830

Dear All At Disney World,

I’m sure you receive letters like this frequently enough that you don’t really need me to write you another one but it is very important to us that you know about our trip and the events leading up to it.

On January 20, 2009, while Barack Obama was taking the oath of office, I was in a hospital emergency room with my then 3-year old daughter Charlotte Jennie learning that she had a very large tumor in her brain. We were admitted to MCV in Richmond, VA that day, she had a full MRI the next morning, and had her first of four brain surgeries on Thursday, Jan. 22.

We have chronicled our experience on www.CJSTUF.org so I won’t go into too much excruciating detail about that.

In the spring, we were approved for a Make-A-Wish trip. When asked what she would do if she could do anything in the world, she answered, “Go where the princesses are.” (Meaning Disney World, of course). We were planning to go possibly after the first of the year, after the majority of her current treatments were finished; but in November we learned the worst. After all the surgeries, chemo, and radiation, the tumor was still growing. And it had moved to the brainstem. We were out of medical options and it was the opinion of our medical team that we needed to think in terms of weeks and not months.

The main goal in all of our lives was refocused to getting Charlotte to Disney World as soon as possible while she could still enjoy it. We contacted our local MAW chapter and they got on it, securing us a week at Give Kids The World Village Starting Dec. 1.

We arrived, safe and sound, and headed off to the Magic Kingdom the next day (Wednesday, Dec. 2). We were told the Disney staff would offer extra help to MAW families. We had no idea how deep Disney’s commitment to MAW would be. We were ushered to the front of lines all day and given preferential treatment everywhere we went. Characters went out of their way to visit with us and cast members seemed to seek us out to ask if we needed anything. We felt very well cared for.

Topping the list of amazing events for us were the character visits with Mickey and Minnie and then with the Fairies Silvermist, Tinkerbell, and Rosetta. We arrived at the area to see Mickey and Minnie in the morning and toured both of their houses first. When we walked into the “barn,” it was almost an accident. This was our first experience with bypassing the long lines and we couldn’t believe it when we were actually walking into the room with Mickey and Minnie after waiting less than 10 minutes.

The visit was wonderful and both Mickey and Minnie conveyed to us, even without words, the care and concern they felt for us with extra long hugs for Mommy and Daddy from Minnie and multiple extra firm handshakes from Mickey as if he was trying to let us know through the glove how much he sympathized.

Charlotte was doted upon and given more time to be with them than I ever thought would be possible. We walked out on a cloud.

Not thinking we could top that for the entire trip (and it was the FIRST thing we did on the FIRST day there), we headed up to see what there was further in the park. We eventually found ourselves at the Fairies and Princesses venue and since we were having lunch at Cinderella’s Castle (generously donated by a friend), we decided to see the Fairies. The sign for wait times was set at 45-min but we got to go in the “other” way, which had us waiting about ten.

The following events are etched into our brains forever and we will keep them close for as long as we live.

As we neared the room where the fairies were waiting, we got Charlotte out of her chair and had her walk in. I held her hand as she was rather unsteady. She was greeted by Silvermist, who took her other hand and began to lead her over to a large flower to discuss the color similarities between the petals and CJ’s pink tutu. As Silvermist took her hand, Charlotte immediately let go of mine and totally forgot about us. It was as if she and Silvermist were best friends from long ago. It was truly magical! We had a video camera but seeing CJ so incredibly happy after all she had to endure made us completely forget to tape anything! It’s ok. We got lots of photos. We just watched and cried as Silvermist called Tinkerbell and Rosetta over to discuss matters of great import like what talent Charlotte might have. I believe they decided she had multiple talents.

Tinkerbell was Charlotte’s absolute favorite and they got to spend a lot of time together. CJ told her about all the other fairies and what they all did. All three fairies were so amazingly attentive and gentle with her. All the while we never felt hurried or pushed into leaving. Charlotte got to spend as much time as she wanted with them and when we finally left, we knew we had experienced something very special.

It wasn’t even noon yet. Did I mention this was the first day?

The next major thing was lunch at Cinderella’s Castle after a quick visit with Ariel (CJ’s absolute favorite princess!) in her grotto. I think I was looking forward to the lunch as much as anyone. When we walked in, Cinderella was greeting people in the front room and, of course, we were ushered right up to her. Charlotte had a wonderful visit with her and soon after, we were called up for our table.

This was another wonderful experience. The princesses all came in and made the rounds and CJ was in heaven! One humorous part was that when Belle (another of Charlotte’s favorites) came around, it was the exact moment the food arrived. CJ was very hungry and that hotdog was calling to her but at the same time, here was Belle! I’m sorry to say Belle didn’t get nearly the reception she would have normally received.

By the way, the food was divine!

CJ crashed after that and we headed back to GKTW for the rest of the day.

Day 2: (Thursday, Dec 3) We basically retraced our steps and did the exact same thing in the morning. Some cousins who came up from South Florida joined us. We toured Mickey and Minnie’s houses and got to see them again. This time we were in a different room but with the same results. They were wonderful again. Mickey pulled out a new trick and made his nose wiggle which CJ found very amusing. Again with the long visit and the extra care and everything. Oy! It was great.

The wait for the fairies was over an hour this time. We only waited 10 minutes again. Mommy was also ready with the video camera and it was rolling when Charlotte walked in. We were greeted by the same Rosetta who was there the day before. The first word out of Rosetta’s mouth was, “Charlotte!” The fact that she remembered CJ and the things they had talked about took our breath away. Again, it was like old friends getting together.

Rosetta was very cool and made sure the other fairies (the same Tinkerbell but a different Silvermist, we think) knew that CJ had been there before. “Hey look, it’s Charlotte who was here yesterday, REMEMBER?!? (hint, hint)”

It was another magical visit and this time Rosetta got the lion’s share of Charlotte’s attention. They were nuzzling forehead to forehead and talking quietly about the things the fairies and princesses do. I felt such a strong sense of affection between CJ and all the fairies and I can only think that they show the same to all the guests who come through.

Later in the trip, we went to Animal Kingdom and got to see Finding Nemo, The Musical. Charlotte was very tired and had been just lounging in her chair for most of the morning but as soon as the performance began, she was attentive, alert and watched the whole thing sitting up on my lap. We all particularly loved the bit with the penguins! It was very funny and penguins were CJ’s favorite birds.

One last item of note was when we went to Rafiki’s after the safari. Rafiki was greeting kids when we rolled in and his assistant told us he was just getting ready to go on break, which was fine since there weren’t that many people around and we had just arrived. We figured we’d talk to him when he came back out. Well, he caught sight of us and made a bee-line for Charlotte. I don’t think he got much of a break that time.

It is a testament to the talent and training of all the cast members that we had such an amazing trip. I sincerely hope they know that their job means much more to people like us than they could ever possibly imagine. It is evident even in the elderly street sweeper I met outside the bathrooms who showed me his very efficient technique for scooping up little bits of things. It was kind of cool and it stuck with me enough for me to mention here.

Charlotte Jennie Reynolds passed on Thursday, January 7, 2010 at home surrounded by stories, music, and love. It was a beautiful passing and Disney was a part of it.

I can’t imagine that this letter might make its way to the specific cast members with whom we came into contact but if so, please let them know that they have touched our lives and become permanent pieces or our memories forever. I’m sure they do it everyday and yet might not realize their impact.

Sincerely,
Roger and Rachel Reynolds (Charlotte Jennie’s daddy and mommy)
http://www.CJSTUF.org

It’s Better to Light One Candle

It’s the week of CJ’s death anniversary. I’ve had some thoughts simmering in my head for a few weeks now but can’t seem to write them all down. Let’s see how this goes…

Last year at this time, I reflected upon the 5 years that had passed since Charlotte died and CJSTUF was founded. It was touching to see how many people remembered Charlotte by making a #light4CJSTUF. 

Many people know the proverb, “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”

2016-01-04-23-11-00
Photo credit: Sara Holloway

When I reach this time of year, it feels easy to curse the darkness; to curl up into a hole with a warm blanket and hide….with the necessary provisions of dark chocolate and wine, of course. Part of it is the cold weather but most of it is memories from 2009 that reach their peak around the Christmas holidays and settle in my chest right around January 1. The darkness won for quite a few years. The holidays were miserable. Now they’re merely tolerable.

I think the light is winning. Perhaps it’s because my attention is diverted. I wrote about 18 months ago on my personal blog, “the busy-ness of child rearing can sometimes be just enough to pull you out of the black hole of grief.” Kiddo is definitely a big part of finding the light. However, I also think that the light is winning because of YOU. The Network has always been there. From day one. It has never faltered. It never went away. The light that is The Network keeps burning. In my mind, it’s like the votive candles in a cathedral. Whenever you enter a Catholic church, you will see the rows of votives. Some are lit; others are not. But it’s always enough. Just when you think that sacred space will be lost to the darkness, someone comes along and offers up another prayer and a candle. They bring the light. That’s how The Network is for us.

So on the sixth anniversary of Charlotte’s death, let me say again: Thank You!

Thank you for allowing us to give back to our community through your gifts to CJSTUF.

Thank you for your moral support, your cheers from the sidelines, and your sympathetic tears.

Thank you for keeping your lights shining.

Let’s make #Light4CJSTUF an annual event. Any time this week, but particularly on January 7, light a candle, take a picture, and post it to social media with the hashtag #light4cjstuf. We’re on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram but you can post anywhere you like. If you’re on Twitter or Instagram, you can tag @cjstuf as well.

By lighting a candle, you are honoring Charlotte’s memory.

By lighting a candle, you are honoring the memory of any child who has died and supporting grieving families.

By lighting a candle, you are giving hope to a family whose child requires constant medical care and frequent hospitalization.

By lighting a candle, you are sharing the mission of CJSTUF with others.

Thank you for being a part of the light.

–Rachel Reynolds
CJSTUF Co-Founder
Mom to CJ

Eulogy For Jack Bartosz

Today’s blog post was supposed to be about the last week of amazing fundraising successes, voting contests ending soon, buses parking on chests and all that but then I read this.  I became aware of the Bartosz family, and Jack in particular, near the end of August.  Actually I believe it was the day before Jack died (that happens more and more these days).  Sarah’s eulogy for her son is eloquent, touching, and inspired.
“A Mother’s Tribute
I have written about Jack and our family for seven years on this site, recapping the highs and lows of this long and painful journey. I had hoped to never, ever have to write a eulogy to my wonderful son; unfortunately, the time came and as hard as it was, it was something I needed to do. 
For those of you unable to join us for the celebration on Saturday evening, John and I both spoke about Jack. Though it was extraordinarily difficult, we had an extraordinary son who gave us the courage, strength, and love to accomplish the task. John’s words were paired with clips from the wonderful videos and movies he has made of the kids throughout the years. I had the daunting task of putting into prose my love for my son and I share the result with all of you below.
There are truly no words adequate enough, no adjectives extraordinary enough to describe my beautiful boy. I could write volumes about how he changed us and about the bright light that was and will always be Jack. What I am grateful for is that the bright light continues to shine in and on all of us, most especially glowing in the eyes and heart of our amazing Annie who shares Jack’s light and will forever keep it glowing in her own good works and loving heart. A prouder mother there can never be.

A Mother’s Tribute
It has been said that it takes a village to raise a child.  But as I look at all of you here today and think of the countless others who wish they could be here, I know that just one child can raise an entire village.  A village of hope, a village of inspiration, a village of courage, strength, determination, and, most importantly, a village of love. 
Jack lived with a faith that anything and everything were possible.  He lived to be ordinary under extraordinary circumstances.  He longed to be “plain” – a term he started using when he was just a little boy of four in the first phases of treatment.  To him, plain meant no IVs, tubes, wires, or other annoying medical devices and pieces of equipment.  Jack longed to be a plain old average kid, but never complained when he went through phases of being anything but plain.  But regardless of the state of Jack’s disease over the last seven years, plain and average are words no one has ever or will ever use to describe Jack – a boy with a big smile and an even bigger heart.
Jack prided himself on being happy and he loved telling anyone and everyone that he was happy and that they should be happy too.  A story was recently recounted to me that during one of the average morning carpool trips to school just this spring, there was an unusual silence among the four kids in the car until Jack piped up with one simple statement, “I’m happy.”  No specific reason was given because Jack never needed any specifics to express his pure happiness for life, going to school, seeing his friends, feeling good, and the other average daily activities and outlooks most of us take for granted.
For John, Annie and me, the most momentous example of Jack’s declaration of happiness came in January 2011 after a devastating scan trip to New York where we learned Jack’s cancer had again crept back unexpectedly and was again threatening his body and his life.  The four of us arrived back in Wisconsin knowing that high-dose chemo would begin again, Jack would miss school, friends, birthday parties and activities, and our lives would be measured in trips to the hospital and nights of inpatient isolation.  As we drove home from the airport, John, Annie and I were all silently crying, the tears flowing in steady streams.  None of us could speak.  Jack looked over at Annie sitting next to him in the back seat and said, “Annie, why are you crying?” as if perplexed by her behavior. 
Annie looked over at him baffled and said, “Jack, your cancer is back. You have to get chemo. You’ll have to be in the hospital. You can’t come to school. You are going to feel sick again. Why aren’t YOU crying?”  We were all silent waiting for his response.  And then it came and changed us all.  “Because I’m happy. You need to be happy. Everyone should just be happy. When you are sad, be happy. And when you are happy, be glad.” 
John and I exchanged incredulous looks, wiped our eyes, and said OK . . . if this child who knows what he is facing can simply be happy in this moment and in this journey, then we need to be happy too.  Jack told us what to do in the face of a crisis and told us how to live our lives not looking at what is going wrong, but looking at all that is going right.  Now this isn’t to say that we haven’t shed oceans of tears since then, but what I can tell you is that we tried very hard from that day forward not to cry in front of Jack.  We did our best to stay positive and be happy. And we have done our best to embrace Jack’s mantra of happiness every day, even in the days since his physical presence left our midst.
Last Christmas with the entire Bartosz and Detling families gathered around our dining room table, we pulled out the conversation stones Jack and Annie had made for us the year before.  After answering questions about our favorite foods, what type of super power we wish we had, and what person from history we would most like to meet, the final question was posed . . . “Describe your ideal day.” As we all thought of what would create the perfect day, answers of pampering at a spa, golf at Augusta National, shopping sprees, a tranquil beach were all offered up until the last person to answer was Jack.  And his little voice simply said, “Any day I don’t have to go to the hospital can be the best day.”  Scratch the spa, the golf, the shopping and the beach . . . Jack was right, any day and EVERY day can be the best days.
But even in the hospital, Jack was out in the halls whenever possible looking to make new friends, join in a video game, organize Nerf gun or silly string battles, or invite his friends up to hang out, make a movie, or eat pizza.  I watched Jack make friends with most EVERYONE in EVERY state and hospital we visited.  Over the years he taught other kids how to swallow their pills, take their medications, get shots without crying, join in a Bingo game or group activity, and make the most of feeling good, even when stuck in a hospital.  Every hospital staff person in every state knew to find Jack if there was a party that needed to get started. 
He created an Olympic mountain out of balloons and paper mache, led the Mardi Gras parade while wearing the chicken hat he fashioned out of a bucket, Styrofoam, orange paint and feathers, filmed videos and television interviews, gathered nurses and doctors to play games, laughed with the clowns, rode his scooter, made every craft project available, participated in cooking classes, pet therapy, drama club, yoga, dance therapy, tae kwon do, and EVERY OTHER ACTIVITY that came along . . . all while tethered to an IV pole and wearing his trademark grin. 
Jack squeezed more living into his 10 years, 10 months and 23 days than most people do in decades. He lived without hesitation or reservation. When asked on a school survey what his greatest fears were, Jack responded, “I don’t have any fears.”  This was true in so many ways.  Though he was cautious and safe, he threw himself at life and living with great abandon and without worry about looking foolish or too enthusiastic. 
Just last week while Annie and I were running errands, a song came on in the car and Annie sighed with smile.  She told me that the song reminded her of Jack.  She went on to tell me that on the ONE day Jack was at school this spring in between chemo and hospital trips to participate in roller skating in gym, he eagerly laced up his skates but had neither the stamina nor muscle tone to actively skate. But in true Jack fashion, he made the best of it and slowly inched his way to the middle of the gym floor.  And when a song came on that he knew the lyrics to, he stopped in the middle of the gym floor, raised his arms, sang at the top of his lungs and danced . . . skates and all as the other kids kept skating in a circle around him.  He wasn’t embarrassed, he wasn’t shy, he wasn’t intimidated or nervous, he was just plain happy and he wanted to share that happiness and enthusiasm with everyone. 
Jack was a believer – he believed in himself, he believed he would beat cancer and grow up to be a surgeon, he believed in the goodness of others, he believed in hope, he believed that laughter truly was the best medicine, and he believed whole-heartedly that all things were possible.  The list could go on and on, but his pure, innocent, genuine belief changed those who loved him in so many ways.  “People, you gotta believe” was a phrase he uttered more than once.  Whether it was during the Packers Super Bowl appearance, watching the Polar Express and talking about Santa, learning about the next treatment or trial we were embarking on, or just waking up with the faith that today could be the best day ever, Jack believed and has made believers out of all of us. 
Going to school was something Jack adored always.  He prided himself on being a good student and kept up with his studies regardless of being inpatient or in another state. I am quite certain that Jack taught his beloved teachers as much as they taught him.  As a protective, worried mom, there are no words adequate to thank them for helping us to make sure he always felt included and valued.  Though he maintained straight A’s, there is no quantitative way to measure the qualitative, heartfelt opportunities his teachers provided to him with their dedication, caring, commitment and love.  I know a part of Jack’s heart will forever remain in the halls of Swallow School.
In addition to being a good student, Jack also prided himself on being a good friend – new friend or best friend, celebrated athlete or trusted caregiver, young in age or young at heart, playground pal or hospital comrade, Jack embraced everyone in the most honest and genuine of ways.  He didn’t care about what people were on the outside, he cared about who a person was on the inside. Jack gave of his love and friendship unconditionally and was happiest just being himself.
And Jack, in turn, was blessed with the most wonderful friends who only saw him for the cheese-loving, laugh-making, orange-wearing, life-embracing boy that he was.  With hair or without, in the hospital or at home, with IVs or without, none of that ever mattered because Jack’s true friends only saw him as their buddy with the big smile and the grand sense of humor. 
To Jack’s friends, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you.  We all thank you for embracing him with your friendship, love, and kindness just as he embraced you with his.  I hope that Jack’s bravery and joy in the face of insurmountable odds will empower you to keep your chin up, embrace life’s challenges, and keep a smile on your face.  Always believe you will succeed. Keep focused on the ultimate goal you are trying to reach. Forever press on and fight the GOOD fight. Know that Jack is cheering for you and know that his grateful family is always cheering for you too. You all hold a special place in our hearts as I hope Jack will forever hold a special place in your heart.  Feel his love and happiness today and always.
I hope everyone here and everyone he touched will always feel Jack’s love and happiness.  And I thoughtfully ask that you help us share Jack’s love with Tommy, the little brother Jack named and couldn’t wait to teach about all the important things in life, so that Tommy, too, can know what an amazing brother he has.  During Jack’s last trip to Northern Wisconsin in July to stay at Gramma and PopPop’s, Jack was able to visit the local bait shop with a $25 gift certificate he won from a kids fishing contest the year before.  Even with pain causing him to limp, he enthusiastically set out to load his tackle box with the coolest of bait.  With a basket full of colorful new jigs and lures, Jack had money left to spend when he spotted a stuffed turtle.  Jack was concerned that the stuffed animal would put him 25 cents over his limit and asked PopPop if that was OK. PopPop happily said he’d spot him the quarter but asked him if he really wanted to spend money on another stuffie. 
Jack quickly exclaimed, “Oh PopPop, this isn’t for me, it’s for Tommy. I’m going to sleep with the turtle and then Annie can sleep with the turtle and then we’ll give it Tommy so he can feel the love.”  Needless to say, the turtle was purchased and awaits Tommy’s arrival and will remain a symbol of Jack’s love for all of us for the rest of our lives. And to Jack, our most thoughtful big brother, I believe with all my heart that Tommy will know, will feel, and will cherish your love.
Just three days before he left us, Jack provided us with some of his final words of wisdom that will resonate in my head and my heart forever, “People know me for my happiness. I don’t want people to think of me for sadness.”  You are right Jack, we will never think of you for sadness.  The tears we cry today are tears of joy for the happiness that you shared, the love that you gave, and the belief that you inspired. 
We always maintained hope that Jack would survive, but we came to understand that the quality and meaning of human life are not measured in years – they are measured in moments.  Moments of happiness in every day in the simplest of ways.  Moments of honesty and words of wisdom:  be happy, feel the love, and just believe.
Thank you all for being a part of Jack’s great village.  Your support of Jack and our family have encouraged us and saved us.  Tomorrow, September 23, marks the day seven years ago that our lives changed forever when we heard the words, “Jack has cancer.”  It has taken this great village to support Jack as well as John, Annie and I and our families through this darkness.
For those of you who know my love of quotes, I leave you with this one. And though the author is unknown, I know the inspiration for such thoughtful words was someone like my Jack.
“There are some who bring a light so great into this world that even after they have gone the light remains.” 
When a star dies in the heavens, its light continues to shine for millions of years.  I trust that Jack’s great light will shine on us all forever, bring us out of the darkness, give us many reasons to be happy, help us to feel the love, allow us to forever believe, and remind us that we must always back Jack.
I love you, Jack. Now and forever.”

I dream of a time when no parent will need to be so inspired.


The “I Back Jack Foundation” has a Facebook Site https://www.facebook.com/pages/I-BACK-JACK-FOUNDATION/97950776597
and their Caringbridge site is http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/jackbartosz.

Board Member Spotlight: Tom Checkosky. Co-Owner of Pepicelli’s Pizza Ashland

Board member since: January 2012

Tom and Lisa Checkosky
“I don’t believe in coincidences.” Tom Checkosky will be the first person to tell you that he’s here (meaning Ashland) “by the grace of whatever it is you want to call God.”  Checkosky used to be operational partner for 7 Domino’s Pizza restaurants in Western Pennsylvania. He started out as driver, became manager, worked his way up the ladder, and then left.

Before the recession hit, he was a regional manager of Best Buy for three days until the economy made them cancel plans for 10 new stores.

Then, after almost two years out of the food sector, he went into a local Pizza Pan restaurant to pick up an order and then proceeded to reconfigure the entire kitchen for the owners who seemed to be having “organizational issues.”  This lit the fire within Tom to get back into the pizza business.

Pepi seriously enjoys summer!
After an exhaustive search, Tom stumbled onto a pizza place for sale in Ashland, Virginia.  The landlord gave him a great deal on rent and even paid to move his store when Smokey Pig Catering left the space next to Ashland Ace Hardware. Other local residents wowed Tom with kindness, dinner, and good advice.  “I’m from up north.  I’m not used to people being nice to me without there being some kind of ulterior motive. I was sold.”

And so Pepicelli’s Pizza of Ashland was established.  This was in 2007 and they are about to celebrate their 5th year in business.
Tom with Jimmy and Ani
Tom brought down his wife, Lisa, and two kids, Jimmy and Ani and they’ve been here ever since (EVERYONE helps at the store when necessary).

“Something always seems to happen every couple of years or so to make us move or whatever.  We’ve been in Ashland five years and it hasn’t happened yet.  I’m convinced that we’re supposed to be here.”

The Checkoskys (and Pepicelli’s Pizza) are active throughout the Ashland community via MAP, the Ashland Street Parties, and several other activities.

Through a strange series of “non-coincidences,” the Checkoskys became aware of CJ’sThumbs Up Foundation and were touched by the Reynolds’ story.  Tom was so moved that he decided to do everything he could to help make CJSTUF successful and even quit smoking as a result of his involvement with the Foundation.

Pepicelli’s Pizza donates meals to The Lunch Bunch (A joint effort between CJSTUF and Conner’s Heroes Foundation to feed the families on the 7th floor of Children’s Hospital of Richmond) and was the Business Of The Month in May of 2011.  They will be the BOTM again in September, donating a portion of the month’s sales to CJSTUF.  On Monday, September 24th, CJSTUF co-founder Roger Reynolds will be delivering pizzas to Pepicelli’s customers who add a small donation to their order.
Tom has dived into his CJSTUF participation with both feet and has become one of our most enthusiastic supporters.

Which is why we wanted to know the answers to:

4 and 1/2 Questions!!!

1) How often do you eat pizza made by another pizza place?

Answer: “Only on vacation and only mom and pop places.  Leonardo’s Pizza in the Outer Banks is a particular favorite as well as Causeway Pizza in Garden City Beach, NC.

2) Can you describe an atom? (I stole this from a website on interview questions)

Answer: “He’s the husband of Eve.”


(smart aleck)
3) How much taller than you is your wife, Lisa?

Answer: “5 inches.”

4) What animal, that you don’t currently have, do you want most of all right now?

Answer: “I want either a big bird like an African Grey or a Cockatoo or a big dog (even though I already have two of each).”

and

1/2)  Don’t you just love it when…

”employees don’t show up for work?”

Answer: “Yes I do!!!”  (There may have been a touch of sarcasm in his voice)


Visit http://www.pepicellis.com for information about Pepicelli’s Pizza of Asland.

My Big Year-End

Wait…that didn’t sound right.

Well, it’s that time again when it seems everyone is either making top 10 lists of what happened the last year or predicting what’s GOING to happen next year.

Well, I’ll jump on the band wagon and give you a list of my own.

Here’s my list of top 10 (or so) businesses that didn’t disappoint me in 2011 (in no particular order).

Cougot’s Chimney Service – We had them replace the panels in the fireplace and then, when one of them cracked again, they replaced it for free even though they really didn’t have to.  They were polite and usually early. http://cougotschimneyservice.com/

Atlee Chiropractic Center – Dr. Anna Madland Bender has been the family chiropractor since before Charlotte was born and continues to be amazing for all her patients. http://www.atleechiropractic.com/

AAA – I need them, I call them, they’re there.  Plus, they even offer “Tipsy Tow” service in some areas for free and you don’t even have to be a member.  Call: 1-800-222-4357 to see if they are going your way.

Primos Pizza Mechanicsville and Pepicelli’s Pizza Ashland – Between the two of them, that’s where I eat 99% of my pizza.  Yummy all around!

The Bed Corner in Mechanicsville – We bought a bed there.  It’s very comfy.  http://www.thebedcorner.com/

Target – Because “there’s ALWAYS something to buy at Target!” (Said Charlotte)

Cracker Barrel – the food is great, the service is fabulous, and they have all that wonderful candy!

Air Park Auto – We have gotten a lot of our basic maintenance done there.  And as with most on this list, the service is always great.  http://www.airparkauto.com/  He also has a party business on the side just in care you were in the market for a bounce house or something.

VW Motor Rebuilders – Speaking of auto repair, this is the only place Rachel wants looking at her car.  The place kind of looks like a dive from the outside but the guy is knowledgeable, fast, and honest!  804-798-6437

Taza Coffee n Cream in Westover Hills – My little oasis across the river.  There’s a chocolatier on premises and they support the arts.  I picked up a few pieces for the Art Auction by meeting artists who had art on the wall there. http://www.tazacnc.com/

And a bonus – Humana One Insurance.  Yeah, I know we had to wrestle with them a time or two when we were getting treatment for Charlotte but they always paid and with the police I still have with them, it has come in very handy for the little esophageal procedure I had done and some other little things here and there.

And now for some predictions:

The Green Bay Packers and the Denver Broncos will meet again in Super Bowl XLVI.

CJ’s CD will be recorded and produced with the help of the very talented local Richmond music scene.

Barack Obama will get re-elected but will choose Steven Colbert for vice-president and Jon Stewart for Secretary Of State.  Hillary Clinton will begin writing children’s books

CJSTUF will distribute $50,000 in financial assistance grants, meals, and emergency funds.

On December 13, 2012, I will wake up in a strange hotel room in North Korea with a massive hangover and a chubby Korean guy named Kim passed out in the bed next to me.  Oh, and don’t forget the llama with the red silk boxing trunks chewing on what appears to be the remnants of a US $1,000 bill.

And in conclusion:

Yet another year to which I say “good riddance” has ended although I can honestly say it didn’t suck quite as much as 2009 or 2010.  2012 is shaping up to be a very good year for CJSTUF.  Let’s hope so.

If I could offer everybody one wish, it would be that you gain a little more peace this year than you had last year.

Now go have an adventure!

It’s been a good day

I don’t think I spend enough time talking about the good moments we have. Lord knows I copiously inflict my bad ones on everyone when they come along.
Here are a few good things:
Today has been pretty good so far. The dark side has been trying to crowd out my happy memories (as it always does) but it has been kept at bay pretty emphatically. Lots of good things going on in our lives.
Rachel’s doing more and more writing (the book is getting closer every day thanks to her work and some very capable editors), I’m even doing some freelance stuff for the local paper, we keep getting VERY generous donations for the year-end challenge match (which you all blew away, thank you very much!), and we feel very loved and supported from all over Tarnation.
A baby was baptized this morning and she was so adorable! I was reminded of when we baptized Charlotte up at Trinity in Fredericksburg. I especially remembered that purple silk Chinese outfit she wore. It was very slippery and I was constantly afraid that I was going to drop her. All of it filled me with a warm feeling. No leaking this time.
Another thing that has made me happy was the result of the Christmas Jar campaign at Westover Hills United Methodist Church. Last year, Donna introduced the concept to the congregation and they ran with it. People saved their change all year in Mason jars and then turned them in last week. There was an anonymous donor who agreed to donate $1,000 if 20 or more jars were collected. I believe at last count, there were 22. Those jars alone brought in around $1,000 which was distributed to the YWCA, a local elementary school, and some local at-risk youth among others programs.
I might have to steal that idea for CJ’s Birthday in July. What do you think?
The Foundation Is looking very strong for next year and our amazing Board has had a huge amount of impact on that. The original founding members and the new ones coming on board have us feeling euphorically optimistic. We come across so many horror stories about “bad boards” that we are in awe of how awesome ours is.
As we all continue moving through the season we hope you can be comforted and find some peace and hope via the work you’ve enabled us/CJSTUF.org to do. Rachel and I certainly take refuge in it and will selfishly do so for the foreseeable future.
Don’t be strangers and don’t let the the energy wane,
Rog

Time for the annual posting of the “Disney Letter.”

Time for the annual posting of the “Disney Letter.”  ‘Tis the season and all that…


February 12, 2010
Disney World Corp.
Magic Kingdom Guest Services
311 World Drive
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830

Dear All At Disney World,

I’m sure you receive letters like this frequently enough that you don’t really need me to write you another one but it is very important to us that you know about our trip and the events leading up to it.

On January 20, 2009, while Barack Obama was taking the oath of office, I was in a hospital emergency room with my then 3-year old daughter Charlotte Jennie learning that she had a very large tumor in her brain. We were admitted to MCV in Richmond, VA that day, she had a full MRI the next morning, and had her first of four brain surgeries on Thursday, Jan. 22.

We have chronicled our experience on http://www.CJSTUF.org so I won’t go into too much excruciating detail about that.

In the spring, we were approved for a Make-A-Wish trip. When asked what she would do if she could do anything in the world, she answered, “Go where the princesses are.” (Meaning Disney World, of course). We were planning to go possibly after the first of the year, after the majority of her current treatments were finished but in November we learned the worst. After all the surgeries, chemo, and radiation, the tumor was still growing. And it had moved to the brainstem. We were out of options and it was the opinion of our medical team that we needed to think in terms of weeks and not months.

The main goal in all of our lives was refocused to getting Charlotte to Disney World as soon as possible while she could still enjoy it. We contacted our local MAW chapter and they got on it, securing us a week at Give Kids The World Village Starting Dec. 1.

We arrived safe and sound and headed off to the Magic Kingdom the next day (Wednesday, Dec. 2). We were told the Disney staff would offer extra help to MAW families. We had no idea how deep Disney’s commitment to MAW would be. We were ushered to the front of lines all day and given preferential treatment everywhere we went. Characters went out of their way to visit with us and cast members seemed to seek us out to ask if we needed anything. We felt very well cared for.

Topping the list of amazing events for us were the character visits with Mickey and Minnie and then with the Faries Silvermist, Tinkerbell, and Rosetta. We arrived at the area to see Mickey and Minnie in the morning and toured both of their houses first. When we walked into the “barn,” it was almost an accident. This was our first experience with bypassing the long lines and we couldn’t believe it when we were actually walking into the room with Mickey and Minnie after waiting less than 10 minutes.

The visit was wonderful and both Mickey and Minnie conveyed to us, even without words, the care and concern they felt for us with extra long hugs for Mommy and Daddy from Minnie and multiple extra firm handshakes from Mickey as if he was trying to let us know through the glove how much he sympathized.

Charlotte was doted upon and given more time to be with them than I ever thought would be possible. We walked out on a cloud.

Not thinking we could top that for the entire trip (and it was the FIRST thing we did on the FIRST day there), we headed up to see what there was further in the park. We eventually found ourselves at the Fairies and Princesses venue and since we were having lunch at Cinderella’s Castle (generously donated by a friend), we decided to see the Fairies. The sign for wait times was set at 45-min but we got to go in the “other” way, which had us waiting about ten.

The following events are etched into our brains forever and we will keep them close for as long as we live.

As we neared the room where the fairies were waiting, we got Charlotte out of her chair and had her walk in. I held her hand as she was rather unsteady. She was greeted by Silvermist, who took her other hand and began to lead her over to a large flower to discuss the color similarities between the petals and CJ’s pink tutu. As Silvermist took her hand, Charlotte immediately let go of mine and totally forgot about us. It was as if she and Silvermist were best friends from long ago. It was truly magical! We had a video camera but seeing CJ so incredibly happy after all she had to endure made us completely forget to tape anything! It’s ok. We got lots of photos. We just watched and cried as Silvermist called Tinkerbell and Rosetta over to discuss matters of great import like what talent Charlotte might have. I believe they decided she had multiple talents.



Tinkerbell was Charlotte’s absolute favorite and they got to spend a lot of time together. CJ told her about all the other fairies and what they all did. All three fairies were so amazingly attentive and gentle with her. All the while we never felt hurried or pushed into leaving. Charlotte got to spend as much time as she wanted with them and when we finally left, we knew we had experienced something very special.

It wasn’t even noon yet. Did I mention this was the first day?

The next major thing was lunch at Cinderella’s Castle after a quick visit with Ariel (CJ’s absolute favorite princess!) in her grotto. I think I was looking forward to the lunch as much as anyone. When we walked in, Cinderella was greeting people in the front room and, of course, we were ushered right up to her. Charlotte had a wonderful visit with her and soon after, we were called up for our table.

This was another wonderful experience. The princesses all came in and made the rounds and CJ was in heaven! One humorous part was that when Belle (another of Charlotte’s favorites) came around, it was the exact moment the food arrived. CJ was very hungry and that hotdog was calling to her but at the same time, here was Belle! I’m sorry to say Belle didn’t get nearly the reception she would have normally received.

By the way, the food was divine!

CJ crashed after that and we headed back to GKTW for the rest of the day.

Day 2: (Thursday, Dec 3) We basically retraced our steps and did the exact same thing in the morning. Some cousins who came up from south Florida joined us. We toured Mickey and Minnie’s houses and got to see them again. This time we were in a different room but with the same results. They were wonderful again. Mickey pulled out a new trick and made his nose wiggle which CJ found very amusing. Again with the long visit and the extra care and everything. Oy! It was great.

The wait for the fairies was over an hour this time. We only waited 10 minutes again. Mommy was also ready with the video camera and it was rolling when Charlotte walked in. We were greeted by the same Rosetta who was there the day before. The first word out of Rosetta’s mouth was, “Charlotte!” The fact that she remembered CJ and the things they had talked about took our breath away. Again, it was like old friends getting together.

Rosetta was very cool and made sure the other fairies (the same Tinkerbell but a different Silvermist, we think) knew that CJ had been there before. “Hey look, it’s Charlotte who was here yesterday, REMEMBER?!? (hint, hint)”

It was another magical visit and this time Rosetta got the lion’s share of Charlotte’s attention. They were nuzzling forehead to forehead and talking quietly about the things the fairies and princesses do. I felt such a strong sense of affection between CJ and all the fairies and I can only think that they show the same to all the guests who come through.

Later in the trip, we went to Animal Kingdom and got to see Finding Nemo, The Musical. Charlotte was very tired and had been just lounging in her chair for most of the morning but as soon as the performance began, she was attentive, alert and watched the whole thing sitting up on my lap. We all particularly loved the bit with the penguins! It was very funny and penguins were CJ’s favorite birds.

One last item of note was when we went to Rafiki’s after the safari. Rafiki was greeting kids when we rolled in and his assistant told us he was just getting ready to go on break, which was fine since there weren’t that many people around and we had just arrived. We figured we’d talk to him when he came back out. Well, he caught sight of us and made a bee-line for Charlotte. I don’t think he got much of a break that time.

It is a testament to the talent and training of all the cast members that we had such an amazing trip. I sincerely hope they know that their job means much more to people like us than they could ever possibly imagine. It is evident even in the elderly street sweeper I met outside the bathrooms who showed me his very efficient technique for scooping up little bits of things. It was kind of cool and it stuck with me enough for me to mention here.

Charlotte Jennie Reynolds passed on Thursday, January 7, 2010 at home surrounded by stories, music, and love. It was a beautiful passing and Disney was a part of it.

I can’t imagine that this letter might make it’s way to the specific cast members with whom we came in contact but if so, please let them know that they have touched our lives and become permanent pieces or our memories forever. I’m sure they do it everyday and yet might not realize their impact.

Sincerely,
Roger and Rachel Reynolds (Charlotte Jennie’s daddy and mommy)
http://www.CJSTUF.org

The Amazing Raise Starts Today!

This is it! Today is the day! 


If you didn’t have a chance to support us through the Art Auction…
If you’ve been looking for a way to help your donation go farther….


Join us in The Amazing Raise!


This 36-hour online giving event will start at 6 AM on Wednesday, October 5th and ends at 6 PM on October 6th.  During this event, Richmond area organizations like ours will be eligible for matching gifts of up to $10,000 when we receive unique donations of $50 or more from our supporters. 


It’s super simple:


1. Go to our profile on the Give Richmond website (just search for CJ’s Thumbs Up Foundation) or look for the webforms in this blog post and on our website. Give a donation of $25 or more.  Prizes will be given to the Richmond-area organizations that collect the most unique donors.  In addition, there will be other prizes given throughout the 36-hour period


2. Spread the word on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites. Encourage your friends, family and strangers to join you in The Amazing Raise.  


The Amazing Raise goes from 6 AM October 5th-6 PM October 6th.  Thanks for your support!