Jake’s Story of Love and Survival
One of the most heartbreaking occurrences in life is when tragedy happens to a young child. Nothing can make up for a permanently handicapped child watching a community rally to ease that pain and financial burden is a blessing. I live in such a community.
In the summer of 1997, a toddler of only 16 months, Jacob Armacost, was a victim of a near drowning at his home in Upperco. His mom, a school nurse, brought him back to life and sustained him until paramedics arrived. This event changed that family, their friends and our community forever.
Jake's dad, Doug, and I were inseparable growing up. As cousins we worked on adjoining farms, went through 12 years of school together, "chased" the same girls, fished together, played poker and even occasionally got into trouble. He was the best man in my wedding and Jake's mom, Donna, was one of the bridesmaids. I was devastated when told the news.
When I saw Doug a few days after the accident, I was speechless and helpless. He and Donna were practically living at the hospital. His immediate family was helping at the farm and taking care of their four young daughters. I had no idea how to offer help, what would be of help and, at the time, no one knew what help would be needed in the future.
Within a couple of months, a group of our friends got together and created The Jacob Armacost Foundation hoping only to raise "a little money" to ease future medical bills. What an understatement! The medical bills were out of sight…yet so was the generosity of our community.
I am proud to say since that time – through a little hard work and a huge amount of community support – we have raised and spent well over $500,000 to cover medical expenses and therapies for Jacob – not otherwise covered.
This miracle has happened through a total community effort. This past weekend was proof as we held the bi-annual pig roast and silent auction in beautiful Upperco, Maryland. There were more than 300 people in attendance and over 150 silent auction items sold. The place was packed with neighbors and friends bidding on everything from gold necklaces and home cooked dinners to bags of seed corn – all donated for Jake's benefit.
Since its inception I have had the privilege to manage the foundation and it has been a rewarding and wonderful experience. We have received countless generous donations, life insurance bequests and even have been the annual beneficiaries of auction proceeds from the sale of foxhound puppies. I am constantly in awe of how our rural community supports those in need.
One year I opened an envelope just before Christmas to find a note, which brought me to tears. A local family outside of Hampstead (who were total strangers) had decided to forgo all presents and send their Christmas money to Jacob. They had only read Jacob's story on a flyer. It was an amazing random act of kindness and love.
Each year one of his therapies (which occurs in Florida) is paid-in-full by a man who first met Jake as a child at a therapy session. Unknown to the family, this man was a multi-millionaire who was intrigued by the story of this tragedy and admired the love poured onto Jake by his family – without discussion or family notification that that bill is now forever paid.
It is tough to watch a severely brain damaged child struggle growing up. The family lives with 24-hour nursing care, hospital visits, traveling thousands of miles to specialists and therapies; a constant need for medical items and a life style none of us would wish to endure. Yet they are happy and loving – and deeply integrated into our small farming community.
I have concluded that the community support is due to the reflection the community sees in the Armacost family. A deep-rooted farm family who, like all farmers, deals with the hand dealt to them with little complaint and humbled by generosity. They are good neighbors and have many good friends.
One day recently Doug and I were traveling home from an event – together in his car. He thanked me for managing the foundation – said he had no clue what would have happened otherwise. I told him that making deposits, writing checks and mailing thank you notes was easy compared to what he and Donna do on a daily basis.
I feel confident, especially after seeing over 300 people at the pig roast, the good in our society far outweighs the evil.