By Chris Sheldon, Star News Group
The Coast Star and The Ocean Star
John Hughes is doing everything he can to promote autism awareness throughout Point Pleasant Beach and surrounding towns.
Mr. Hughes, of Point Pleasant Beach, started the JT Foundation, which is named for his son, John Thomas Hughes, who was diagnosed with autism in 2007, with the hope of spreading awareness about the disease and giving donations to autism research organizations and groups as well as families affected by the disease.
Mr. Hughes and his wife are runners and cyclists, and after their son was diagnosed, they wanted to continue doing what they love while promoting awareness.
Mr. Hughes said he started the JT Foundation with the idea that the non-profit’s main goals would be to organize fundraising and autism awareness.
The JT Foundation recently donated $4,000 to three organizations that help spread autism awareness: Just 2 Moms, Key To Met Therapy and The Foundation for Autism Training and Education.
Last month, the JT Foundation held a Men’s Pampered Chef Barbecue at Mr. Hughes’ home in Point Pleasant Beach and raised $400. Mr. Hughes said that the JT Foundation traditionally donates to organizations and groups but that it will focus on donating to families affected by autism next year.
“It’s not about how much money we raise, it’s about awareness,” Mr. Hughes said. “We want people to know that giving back to the community is rewarding in a a lot of ways.” Mr. Hughes also started a group called the Team 4 Autism Awareness in 2007. The team is made up of athletes and their friends and families who support the JT Foundation by registering and participating in triathlons and other races and getting donations. They are encouraged to set up their own fundraising Web sites in order to help them get donations for the event from their friends and families. They can also buy Team 4 Autism Awareness apparel such as running and cycling shirts and triathlon tops. All the money they raise through donations or by buying apparel goes to the JT Foundation which will then donate the money to autism research organizations or families that are affected by the disease.
“It’s for people who want to get in shape and also want to give back to their community,” Mr. Hughes said.
Mr. Hughes said the team is comprised of top level athletes as well as people who are just doing the races for fun or health. He said all members of the team have group workouts, rides, swims and runs in Ocean County and Monmouth County. “It’s a great way for people to network and meet other athletes,” he said.
He said he hopes to continue to expand the amount of races in which the team participates. “Out ultimate goal is to have a presence in as many races as we can,” he said. “We have five or six events a season where we can accumulate the masses, the biggest being the May New Jersey Marathon in Long Branch.” He said he hopes to get 200 people to participate in the marathon. “They can run a full or half marathon or they can do a relay, which is good because it opens it up to a lot of different people,” he said.
Mr. Hughes plans on starting training and support programs for the marathon in early fall. The team’s latest event was the inaugural triathlon and duathlon for autism which was held in Belmar, Lake Como and Spring Lake last Saturday. Twenty racers were participating in the triathlon and duathlon as representatives for the Team 4 Autism Awareness. Mr. Hughes said one of his friends ran the race with two of his young sons and another one of his friends said it was the first triathlon in which he has ever participated.
Several volunteers were on hand at the race, which began and ended in Belmar, to support the 20 runners from the Team 4 Autism Awareness. All the money raised from the race will be given to the JT Foundation which is donating it to Surfers Healing, a foundation that travels the county and promotes surfing as a means of therapy for autistic children.
The next event for the Team 4 Autism Awareness will be on Saturday, Aug. 15 at 7 a.m. at the Long Branch Sprint Triathlon Series. All of the proceeds from this race will be donated to the JT Foundation, so all the runners, not just members of the Team 4 Autism Awareness, will be supporting autism awareness. “We’re looking to get athletes to race in the event or volunteer at the transition areas,” Mr. Hughes said.