By Jacqueline Durett
SOUTH AMBOY — Preparing for the annual Jammin’ for Jaclyn event is usually stressful, but this year, it has been much more of an emotional journey, according to co-founder Denise Morgan.
This year’s event, planned for April 29 at the Knights of Columbus in South Amboy, was originally intended to benefit Morgan’s daughter, Jaclyn Squillace Olsen, and Arleth Elementary School teacher Danielle Sozio, who had both been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Olsen, for whom the event was originally named in 2014, had been in remission. However, the chemotherapy has compromised her heart, and she is currently facing complications due to surgery last month. Olsen is currently in a rehabilitation facility, Morgan said.
Also last month, Sozio, a resident of Edison, passed away.
“She fought really hard,” Morgan said. “She had a smile on her face every time I saw her.”
Morgan said the intent behind the event, which she started with her husband, Ron, and son Michael Squillace, is to help people in the community facing a cancer diagnosis, as well as remind people about the importance of getting a second opinion and advocating for their own best care. Olsen’s delayed diagnosis meant that she did not know about her advanced breast cancer until she was five months pregnant.
Last year’s event, while Olsen was in remission, raised funds for city resident Wyatt Rojewski who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma.
Morgan said the Jammin’ for Jaclyn funds that were intended for Sozio will go to her family.
Sozio’s passing and Olsen’s medical issues have only pushed Morgan and event organizers to work harder on the event, Morgan said. Morgan said she already has nearly 50 sponsors this year, double last year’s number.
“I think people know we’re here to stay,” Morgan said, adding that since event has a couple of years behind it, she thinks businesses are taking it more seriously and are more willing to participate.
In addition, she said, the community consistently comes out for the event. In the past, Morgan said as many as 600 people have come through the door of the Knights of Columbus over the course of the evening. She said everything—the food, the music and more—for the night is donated, so all proceeds can benefit the chosen recipients and their families.
Despite such a devastating start to the year, Morgan stresses that the event will be a positive one. She said she wants Sozio’s family to know how much support they have.
“It’s going to be a big party celebrating her life,” Morgan said. “It might ease their heart just a little bit that day.”
She also said that because she knows how much of an emotional boost the event has been for her daughter in the past, Olsen will be in attendance, even if only for a brief time.
“She’ll stay as long as she can,” Morgan said.
She stressed, however, that the event is not intended to only be positive for the patients and their families, but for all attendees.
“It just feels like a bunch of family members getting together and having a big party,” she said, adding that while many people attend because they know the person or people for whom the funds are being raised, everyone is welcome.
She said that the event is about food, music and community, and because of the positive atmosphere, there is “never a touch of any sadness there.”
Tickets for the event, which will be held from 3:30-11 p.m. at the Knights hall, 308 Fourth St., are only available at the door, and cost $25. The evening is an adults-only event.
For more information, visit jamminforjaclyn.weebly.com/, the Jammin’ for Jaclyn Facebook page or call 732-525-9536.