BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Softball players from 54 teams will fan out across Somerset County on Saturday, July 9th to play ball for a cause in the 24th annual Jack Gardner Softball Tournament.
Jack’s Kids will be the beneficiaries of the day’s events, which culminates with an afternoon party and awards’ ceremony at the Somerville Elks Lodge #1068, 375 Union Ave., Bridgewater.
Jack’s Kids is a non-profit organization that helps to ease the financial burden for families dealing with serious childhood illnesses and/or serious disabilities; many of the children have spent most of their life in and out of hospitals.
Jack’s Kids is named in memory of Jack Gardner, a former detective in the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office and later warden of the Somerset County Jail. He grew up in North Plainfield, where he was an outstanding athlete in football, basketball, and baseball.
He was also a member of the Somerville Elks Lodge #1068.
“Jack was a treasure. His main virtue was his willingness to help people,” said Hank Werner, Jack’s Kids chairman. “Anyone who came to Jack for help was assured that he would come through. Throughout Somerset County he is noted for helping many people, especially the younger generation. He was kind, thoughtful and always gave of himself,” Werner added.
Jack’s Kids began in 1992 when Pierce Frauenheim, retired football coach at Immaculata High School and Gardner asked the Somerville Elks to host a softball tournament to raise money for a friend’s child who had been diagnosed with cancer at the age of two.
Gardner passed away the following year, prompting the Elks to name the tournament in his honor. Over the years the name was shortened to “Jack’s Kids.”
The organization continues to grow and now helps over 30 families with their financial needs as they care for their children. Jack’s Kids is a non-profit 501c3 organization under the Charitable Trust within the Somerville Elks Lodge.
“These kids and their families are an inspiration to us all. We do this for them. We do it for the smiles we see on their faces and the joy they bring to us all,” Werner said. “These kids are the pure meaning of strength. Their struggles and sometimes pain is not the first thing you see. You see innocence and love. They teach us every day what selflessness means and what it truly means to give back. They come and help as they get older and share in the excitement of each other’s milestones.”
The honorary chairman of the 2016 tournament is state Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, R-16th.
"Families dealing with serious childhood illnesses and disabilities face enormous financial pressures," Ciattarelli said. "Whatever we can do in the community to ease that burden demands our attention. And so, I’m committed to doing everything I can to make this very important annual event and fundraising successful."
“Although this tournament is a wonderful way to share the day with these truly heroic families and kids, none of it would be possible without the outstanding and generous support from our softball teams who come every year, the amazing umpires and other people who volunteer their time that day, the amazing restaurants who donate enough food to feed over 5000 people, and our sponsors and business owners who donate money and gifts,” said Lisa Werner, treasurer.
She also coordinates the teams and over 30 umpires for the day. “It is a daunting but very rewarding task,” she said. “Without them we could not help Jack’s Kids and their families. It is hard enough watching your child hurt and not be able to help. To worry about finances on top of that is even worse.
“The bills build and we are here to help chip away at that. It’s the least we can do for them,” she added. “Every year we have a larger impact on these families as well as our community. We are blessed and honored to be a part of it.”
The day starts at 8 a.m. on the fields throughout Somerset County with the ceremonial first pitch. Some of Jack’s Kids will attend the games. The teams all play throughout the morning and into the afternoon while volunteers pick up food, set up the lodge and get ready for the day’s events.
After the games, the teams will return to the lodge for Opening Ceremonies at 2 p.m. Following the opening ceremonies, the winning teams are all presented with their trophies. There will be food and drink, a DJ, 50/50 raffle and kids’activities.
Arts on Division, a non-profit organization based in Somerville and sponsor of the Tour of Somerville bike race, will present Jack’s Kids with a $5,000 check as beneficiary of this year’s historic Tour of Somerville Cycling Series which is held every Memorial Day.
“We were honored to find out they had chosen us this year,” said Hank Werner. “It is a great to see one non-profit give to another.”
The event at the lodge is open to the public; admission is $10.
More information can be found on the website at www.jackskids.org. There are links to volunteer and donate on the website.
Further information is available by calling (908) 722-4634.