Says Joe Maddon: “The volunteers are the unsung heroes. Without them, none of our efforts occur.” Every month, the Respect 90 Foundation will salute a distinguished volunteer from the communities of Tampa, FL, Chicago, IL, Mesa, AZ, Southern California, or Joe’s Hometown of Hazleton, PA. Respect 90 will present a $1,000 grant to that volunteer’s charity. Should you have someone who is deserving, please let us know.
Jackee Zamudio | Brandon’s Forever Home (Hazleton, PA)
Jackee Zamudio’s plan was to return to school to pursue a degree in nursing once her children were old enough. When her youngest discovered the level of independence that comes with being a nine-year-old, Jackee was ready to chase her dream.
And then came 2018 and everything changed. “It’s a year I will never forget,” she says wistfully. Already rocked with news that her husband Jorge had an advanced, malignant tumor, Jackee was with him for his first chemotherapy appointment when state officials were at her door preparing to take custody of her oldest daughter’s three children. An abusive relationship had left them homeless.
Her own five children were about to be joined by her three grandchildren, all under the age of six. A soon-to-be-born fourth grandchild would be joining them.
Jackee and Jorge’s house, the same house Jackee grew up in in Hazleton, PA, with a foundation laid some 90 years before, was going to need bunkbeds, lots of bunkbeds.
“With my husband sick and unable to work, I was struggling a little bit,” recalled Jackee. “Then one of my friends suggested I call the Brandon Forever Home. Like a lot of people, I was under the impression it was just for foster and adopted children and I thought I wouldn’t qualify for assistance because they were my grandchildren, but I called and they said, come on and they helped me get a crib that I needed, some clothes, diapers, food.”
It didn’t get easier for the Hazleton High School graduate and her husband. Battling drug addiction, her daughter would eventually deliver four more children, three premature and battling health issues and all in need of a home. Jackee and Jorge were there for them all, adopting all of her grandchildren and somehow finding room for her mother who was diagnosed with dementia. “I’m not one to give up,” she says. “If there is some hope in something, I am going to go for it.”
And she reasons, while 2018 held many tense, life-challenging moments it also brought her to Brandon’s Forever Home. “They have offered me anything I would need for the kids and they made sure that if they didn’t have it, they would find someone to donate it. That whole first year I could always turn to the people at Brandon’s.”
BFH was created by Hazleton native and family lawyer Lorine Ogurkis to help foster children in need, and most importantly encourage others to consider adoption from foster care as they have done. Says Jackee, “It’s set up like a house where families and can come and if they want food we give them food, if they need clothes we give them clothes, if they need shoes we’ll get them shoes.”
Jackee continues to spend much of her time there, but her role there has changed. “For all the help Brandon’s Forever Home helped me with, I asked them how can I help you?” she explains.
She started volunteering by helping to wrap holiday presents for the foster children who visit the home and organizing the donated clothes and assisting families with their clothing needs. She also serves in the home’s food pantry with making the food boxes every Wednesday for the foster families.
“To know Jackee is to love her!” says Danielle Crestuk, Operations Manager at Brandon’s Forever Home. “She is always willing to jump in and help when I need extra hands. Like many others here I am honored to have had the opportunity to build friendships and she is among those I can call friend. Her resilience is an inspiration to me and many others. BFH isn’t just a house it’s a community and it takes a village. She is an essential part of the BFH village.”
Jackee is also involved in the home’s monthly gatherings with foster children. “At these meetings the children get together and talk to each other so they can know that they are not alone in this. We let them know there is no reason to be embarrassed that you’re in foster care or embarrassed that you’re adopted. We want them to know if they need anything they can reach out to any of us here at Brandon’s Forever Home.”
A recent outing included a visit to a pumpkin patch and a summer visit to an amusement park. “Anything to get the kids together so they can talk,” she says. “The parents, too. We share our stories and maybe find a way to do something better. We help each other here too. It’s a great thing they have started here. I’m so glad somebody brought me in and I’m glad to help give back for all the help they have given me.”
Jackee also turns to the Hazleton Integration Project’s Hazleton One Center for help with her own family. ‘With six boys and two girls who are all minors, we turn to them for sports,” she says. The center is not the only connection she has with HIP founder Joe Maddon. Jackee was a regular at the Third base Dugout diner during her days at Hazleton High School, where Maddon attended years before. Maddon’s mother, Beanie, was a long-time waitress at the family restaurant, located across the street from the high school and a block from the Maddon home.
Rick Vaughn | Executive Director, Respect 90 Foundation
For more information on Brandon’s Forever Home, call (570) 599-8234 or visit BrandonsForeverHome.com