Dunmoreans of the Month: Theo and Greg Zayac

Dunmoreans of monthBy Steve Svetovich

Theo and Greg Zayac are Dunmoreans who are truly out to save the world, or at least the tiniest part of it in the form of young infants.

Their ambition is fueled by a cruel tragedy — the death of their healthy three-month-old infant son Jude on July 23, 2014, as a result of S.I.D.S (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).

While other parents might be destroyed by such a loss, the grieving young couple instead vowed to make sense out of the tragedy and to make a positive impact in the name of Jude.

When friends set up a Go Fund Me account in the days following Jude’s death, both Theo and Greg knew they did not want to use the money for themselves, but that they wanted to start a foundation in their son’s name. They spent the next six months learning about S.I.D.S and about which hospitals were in the forefront of research. They were saddened to discover that S.I.D.S. is the leading cause of  death in children under one year of age, amounting to approximately 4,000 deaths each year.

Known as the silent killer, since victims pass away in their sleep, S.I.D.S. strikes without notice. Not much is known about its causes, although a study at Boston Children’s Hospital in 2010 concluded that there may be a link between brainstem abnormalities and serotonin deficiencies and S.I.D.S.

“More studies like this need to be conducted to develop this theory and to find a way to detect S.I.D.S. before it kills more healthy babies, like our sweet Jude,” Theo says.

Greg and Theo  believe that Boston Children’s Hospital is the premiere research center for S.I.D.S., making the biggest breakthroughs to help understand and prevent the syndrome, and they decided to raise fund for that research..

Dunmorean of the Month - Jog-for-Jude-2016-52-of-268-768x512“This became a huge part of our coping process, especially for my husband,” explains Theo. “We found that we could put our energy into raising monies to find the causes of S.I.D.S and help other parents avoid a devastating loss like ours. It was a positive way to focus our energy and emotions It has become our mission.”

After doing the research and establishing the Jude Zayac Foundation, the couple settled on the idea of sponsoring a “Jog for Jude”. This simple idea has grown into an event that draws thousands from the community and far beyond to raise both funds and awareness for SIDS research. This year’s fourth annual event will be held on Sunday, April 22, at Dunmore Community Center, 1414 Monroe Ave., Dunmore.

Although the race is the signature event, the family pursues awareness events and fund-raising all year round, including the Blue and Pink Day held in March.

It is very much a family affair, spearheaded by Theo and Greg, with the wholehearted support of their parents, John and Florence Lawless and Ted and Kim Zayac, all of Dunmore. Even their older son, Gregory, now age 7, became involved from the beginning, as have the latest additions to the Zayac’s family–Matilda, 2, and Gus, 9 months.

Dunmorean of the Month - Jude ZayacAlso on board from the start were their siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, and many family friends. For instance, Kevin Hayes is in charge of development; Matt Swartz, finance; Ted Zayac, logistics; Cara McCormick and Florence Lawless, entertainment; Mariclare Hayes and Steve Zayak, awareness; Shamus McCormick, race operations; Linda Speicher and Kim Zayac, volunteers, and Bryan Zayac, recognition.

Their efforts and those of volunteers (370 assisted with the last year’s  Jog for Jude), attracted 2,121 participants in 2017, with $108,496 raised. They expect even higher numbers this year.

Jog for Jude features the area’s only 5K race raising awareness and funds for S.I.D.S. research, as well as a 1 Mile Fun Walk. Pricing for participation is age-based, and various other activities including basket raffles and activities for children are featured.

For more information, visit  www.runsignup.com/Race/PA/Dunmore/JogforJude.

Annual Jog For Jude Race Scheduled for Sunday, April 23rd

Jog for Jude 2017 (2)Runners will lace up their sneakers and compete in the third annual “Jog for Jude” 5K run/walk on April 23 at the Dunmore Community Center. Unlike traditional races, runners will not be competing against each other but collectively competing against a rare and horrible disease known as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS.

SIDS is the number one cause of death in children under one year of age in the U.S. Over 4,000 lives are suddenly cut short each year due to SIDS; that equates to about one in every 2,000 children.

On July 23, 2014, the terrible disease took the  life of a 3-month old Jude Zayac. In wake of his unexpected death, his parents, Greg and Theo Zayac of Dunmore, founded the Jude Zayac Foundation. The mission of Jude’s Foundation is to raise funds to support SIDS research and to enrich the lives of living children in the community.

Jog for Jude 2017 (1)The first “Jog for Jude” event was held on April 19, 2015, at the Dunmore Community Center. Since then, the foundation has raised over $167,000 and hosted over 3,000 runners/walkers with the help of hundreds of community volunteers.

The foundation has donated $110,000 to the Boston Children’s Hospital, which stands at the forefront of SIDS research. Also, it has donated $30,000 to St. Joseph’s Baby Pantry, which serves infants from families in need. This year’s event will again benefit the St. Joseph’s Baby Pantry.

The foundation hopes that members of the community will join it in the upcoming 5K run/walk and help it spread awareness and fight SIDS.

Sherwood Park Makes a Splash

By Emily Fedor

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Everyone deals with grief differently, but three Dunmore families that each faced a loss of their own chose to turn their grief into something positive and honor their loved ones in a very special way.

The Zayac family lost their “Sweet Baby Jude” in 2014 as the result of SIDS—Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Mark and Diane Michalczyk’s son Ryan passed away in his sleep in 2009. And Dorothy French Conway lost her long and bravely fought 11-year battle with ovarian cancer in 2011.

Carol Conway, Dorothy’s mother-in-law, said that at the end of Dorothy’s life, she wanted a play area where children could gather and enjoy summertime fun to be constructed.

“She was such a wonderful mother and educator…and she loved children,” said Conway. “She just felt that establishing something would give them a focus. They needed to know that they were important. She was the most selfless person.”

With similar hopes of finding a way to give back to the community and memorialize their own loved ones, the Zayacs and the Michalczyks appeared to be the perfect partners to make that dream a reality.

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Years ago, Sherwood Park was home to a small wading pool, an area where many children were able to play and keep cool during the hot summer months. But in 2006, the pool was drained and filled in.

Susan Brace, treasurer of the Sherwood Youth Association, said, “We had to fill in the pool because of rising insurance costs. We had to keep a lifeguard on duty, and the pool was actually deteriorating.”

Brace said the idea of creating another water attraction was in the making for years, but the organization never thought they would be able to secure the funds needed to make the idea a reality.

In 2008, Tammy Robson, a former Sherwood Youth member, did a college project on installing a splash pad at the park in the same spot where the old wading pool once stood. Robson included pictures and financial estimates and ultimately made the concept a little more concrete.

“This has been an on-going idea for years,” said Brace. “We saw them [splash pads]  in the area and wanted to build something where they [local children] could enjoy the summer months, but we never thought we’d be able to do it because we never thought we’d be able to raise enough funds.”

The Dunmore Summer Festival hosted annually at the park brought in some funds, but it was not until the Michalzyk family brought in the first major donation in May of 2014 that things finally got moving.

Diane Michalzyk said that her family worked to remodel the park area at St. Anthony’s Memorial Playground in Dunmore in 2011 in memory of her son Ryan. They had an idea to construct a water attraction there but quickly realized it was a big project to tackle alone. So when they heard Sherwood had a similar idea, they immediately jumped on board.

“With the combined resources from the families and Sherwood Park, we were able to accomplish that project faster than if we went at it on our own,” said Michalzyk, “and the experience was just priceless.”

Shortly after, the Conway and Zayac families heard about the park’s splash pad plans and joined the efforts to make the concept a reality. And with that, the dream team was fully assembled.

Each family had a memorial foundation established in names of those they lost—the Jude Zayac Foundation, the Ryan Mason Michalzyk Memorial Fund and the Dorothy French Conway Memorial. Different fundraisers that each family conducted provided crucial funds that allowed construction to begin. Sherwood Youth also qualified for a $45,000 state grant funded by Mount Airy Casino Resort slots revenues—a share of money distributed annually under the 2004 slots law.

In March, the final design was completed, the splash pad equipment was purchased from Aquatic Recreation Company, based in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, and construction plans began to play out. Reilly Landscaping excavated the former wading pool area in May once the frozen winter ground finally thawed, and in June, Perry’s General Contracting was chosen to spearhead the splash pad construction.

At the end of  nearly a month of construction, the non-slip finish was applied to the concrete surface, and the Splash and Play Zone was finally ready to be revealed.

The officers of the Sherwood Youth Association hosted a dedication ceremony and ribbon cutting to open the pad for public use on Sunday, July 19. The national anthem was sung by Thomas Pyeron, and a blessing was given by Rev. John A. Doris. Additionally, Mayor Patrick “Nibs” Loughney and each of the families were presented with plaquesa token of gratitude for the part they played in bringing the concept of the splash pad to life.

After a balloon release, the cutting of the ceremonial ribbon and the unveiling of a monument honoring Jude, Ryan and Dorothy, children from each of the three families pressed the activation ballard togetherturning on the splash pad for the first time.

Greg Zayac, father of Jude Zayac, admitted that the day was a bittersweet but enjoyed seeing all the families who came out for the opening playing on the splash pad and having a good time.

“It was a little emotional,” said Zayac. “It’s unfortunate that we all had to lose someone for this to be a reality, but it’s really been inspiring and helpful in our grieving process. I think it’s a great thing for the community, and the kids really love it.”

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The Sherwood Youth Association is now preparing for their annual summer festival, which will take place on August 13, 14 and 15. The fun-filled event will be the perfect platform to showcase the park’s new attraction and allow locals to enjoy some hot summer nights.