Doing Good: Justin Jennings Foundation: Justin’s Beach House in Bethany Beach
Craig and Mary Ellen Nantais stand by the giant chair that guests sit in for family photos.
Justin W. Jennings passed away in the summer of 2000 after a courageous battle with brain cancer. During that fight, the Penn State freshman and his family were able to enjoy some time in Bethany Beach.
To recognize those good times at the beach, as well as to honor their son, Craig and Mary Ellen Nantais formed the nonprofit Justin Jennings Foundation. With tons of support from the community, they were able to build Justin’s Beach House in Bethany.
Kathy Green calls the project a dream come true.
“With their grief, they put their energy and focus into building this wonderful place,” says Green, the foundation’s executive director. “A lot of the house is paid for, but we still have a mortgage. It’s truly a gift from businesses, community members, friends and families.”
The first guests spent a week at the house last winter and, as of early May, the house was booked from June 12 through Sept. 1. Eligible guests are restricted to families with a current cancer patient, or one who has been in treatment within the past year. For just a $250 refundable deposit, a family gets free room and board in the modern, spacious cottage. Patients range in age from 3 to 55.
The foundation, which depends primarily on volunteers and donations, holds two fundraisers a year: a 5K race in the spring and an event to be announced in the fall. Once the mortgage is paid, the foundation will raise money to cover operations and start an endowment.
“It’s truly amazing,” Green says. “You can have all the dreams in the world, but without people’s help, you can’t make them come true. It’s an ongoing labor of love. We hope it has love and laughter 50 weeks of the year.” —Drew Ostroski