Jay’s HOPE families enjoy day at Lane Southern Orchards

FORT VALLEY -- Cindy Gaskins knows very well how important it is for families dealing with cancer to have normal, family fun days while dealing with the disease.

That’s why Gaskins, who founded Jay’s HOPE six years ago with her husband Jason in honor of their son, Jay, puts together once-a-month family outings for the organization, such as the one held Sunday at Lane Southern Orchards. Jay Gaskins died of pediatric cancer in 2006.

“It’s an opportunity for families to get together and have something fun to do,” she said. “It’s a fun thing to have social activities, especially with families that are going through the same thing that they are. ... Most families are going through treatment protocols, surgery, doctor’s appointments -- it’s overwhelming to their lives. They can have a tough time finding time to be together as a family and have fun.”

Sunday’s event was for 18 families that included nearly 100 people. The families were given a tour of the packing plant by Lane’s staff as well as a bag of peaches. Gaskins said Jay’s HOPE paid for a dinner for the families later in the evening.

Many of the parents and children involved in Sunday’s event said they draw support from other families going through similar trying times.

Ashley Perez, of Warner Robins, said her son Jose, 9, is currently nine months in remission for bone cancer. But a tumor has caused Jose gastrointestinal and urinary issues that will stay with him for the rest of his life, she said.

“It’s really important that kids go to these places with other children,” she said. “They don’t think about the treatments and doctors visits (during the outings).”

“I don’t have to feel embarrassed (with the other children),” Jose said. “It’s good. It’s real nice.”

Carla Stephens lost her 4-year-old son Jamayia in 2009 from brain cancer. Her 10-year-old daughter Carleesia Hinton is currently recovering from treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The family is hoping that if her scans are good this week, doctors might take out her port that’s used for chemotherapy.

“This is a safe haven,” Stephens said. “You get to be with other people who know what you are going through. It’s a great, great organization. They’ve really helped us with our children.”

She said she tries to give support as well as receive it from the other families involved with Jay’s HOPE.

“A lot of people tell me I inspire them,” she said. “I look at Cindy, and she’s on call all the time. She’s an inspiration. She’s always looking to help.”

Gaskins said the families involved with Jay’s HOPE are from all across Middle Georgia and get their treatment in Macon, Atlanta and St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. The children whom the organization serves range in age from preschool to teenagers.

“We draw strength from each other’s stories,” Gaskins said.

For more information about Jay’s HOPE, visit

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.