Families dealing with a cancer diagnosis have a chance to put their worries aside and enjoy each other through free trips to Myrtle Beach, S.C., thanks to volunteer efforts of Surfside United Methodist congregants. Children who benefit from this missionary endeavor called "Jason's House" are referred by 14 hospitals in South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia. Approximately 50 to 65 families receive the trip each June, July and August. After 31 years, the value of the vacations this church community has provided totals more than $8 million.
The initiative is called Jason's House, after one of the congregation's 10-year-old members lost his life to a brain tumor in 1984. His name was Jason, son of Jim and Linda Lewis. Since that time three decades ago, members of his church at Surfside United Methodist have raised money so they can give away free trips to Myrtle Beach in Jason's memory.
Elaine Paige, chairperson of Jason's House said, "The goal of Jason's House is to give these families that are burdened with cancer a week of stress-free enjoyment, away from chemos and doctors, and all the problems of life that they have, and come to Myrtle Beach and not have to worry about money."
She said the church group tries to make it as festive and fun as they can for families whose children are facing terminal health conditions.
Jason's House is not an actual house, however. The church representatives describe its structure as rooted in Christian sympathy for families whose lives are stressed as they care for a child with a life-threatening disease. The children and their families are offered a complimentary, one-week vacation in the Myrtle Beach area. Extensive community support is solicited and provided in the form of free lodging, meals and entertainment.
To receive a Jason's House vacation, individual families must be approved by a social worker at one of the 14 regional hospitals participating in the program. Participating children range from several months' old to 19 years of age.
Rooms are assured by mid-April to begin assigning families. The value of all the support provided in meals, rooms and entertainment is estimated more than $3,000 for the typical participating family.
In addition to Myrtle Beach-logoed hats, church volunteers collect donations of sand buckets, travel-size games, crayons, coloring books, pencils, pens, markers, puzzle books, fun pads, stuffed animals, frisbees, small toys, Bible story books, character story books, liquid bubbles, beach ball, kites, dolls and Matchbox cars. They also round up disposable cameras, forever stamps and thank you cards with envelopes.
Former senior pastor of Surfside, The Rev. Scott Wachter, said, "So many of the families and children are really blessed to know that somebody loves them enough to do this for them and to provide for them, to care for them. So, it's really a good, total, whole body healing experience."