When Tom Coughlin moved to Jacksonville in 1995 to coach the Jacksonville Jaguars, he created something even bigger than his team: The Tom Coughlin Jay Fund has helped local families tackle childhood cancer for over 20 years.

With Coughlin’s return to Jacksonville as the Vice President of Football Operations, a spotlight is once again shining on the organization.

A look back

The Jay Fund was formed to honor the legacy of Coach Coughlin’s former player Jay McGillis, who was diagnosed with leukemia while playing football for him at Boston College. McGillis lost his battle to cancer in just seven months. After seeing the toll the illness took on Jay and his family, Coughlin decided that while he couldn’t bring Jay back, he could honor his legacy by helping other kids tackle cancer.

Just two years after losing McGillis, the Jay Fund was born. Now, over 4,000 families have been helped through the foundation and over 9 million has been given in grants.

In 2002, Tom lost his job as head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, but the Coughlins’ decided to keep the foundation in North Florida to continue the work they had started.

Coughlin would go on to coach the New York Giants, and he’d share McGillis’s legacy with his new home in New York/New Jersey. The Jay Fund continues to operate in both areas.

A look forward

Through the years helping pediatric oncology patients has become a Coughlin family affair. While Tom continues to serve as President, his daughter, Keli, began working for the charity in 2004.

“I’m the Executive Director but my role is constantly growing along with the organization,“ she said.

That’s because the impact and scope of the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund is continually evolving. What started as a golf tournament fundraiser has become a four-star certified nonprofit with events and ongoing support for families throughout the year. And while Jaguars hospital visits and fancy galas may catch headlines, the Jay Fund works with children battling cancer around the clock.

“My favorite part is definitely the kids, they are so inspiring,” Keli said. “They keep a smile on their face and carry on through the adversity.”

In Jacksonville, The Jay Fund works closely with Nemours and Wolfson Children’s Hospital to connect with patients and families. Any family battling pediatric cancer, regardless of socioeconomic status, is eligible to receive help through the Jay Fund’s grants.

Photo courtesy of Tom Coughlin’s Jay Fund

“We help everybody out but there is a real niche for middle class families who don’t quality for government assistance,” Keli explained. And the Jay Fund’s financial support does more than cover medical costs. They help pay mortgages and utility bills, provide meals, transportation and anything else a family may need while their child is sick. It doesn’t end there. Families are encouraged to enroll in the Jay Fund’s “Financial Game Plan,” a program designed to ensure long-term financial success for families.

While having a child suffer from cancer is unimaginable, a lot of the stories have happy endings, thanks to organizations like the Jay Fund.

“I’ve had the opportunity to see some of the kids grow up,” Keli said. “Not every story ends well, but seeing a lot of the kids reach their goals in life is very, very rewarding.”

“Our scope of services continues to grow because of community support,” Keli continues. “We are so thankful to everyone who helps the mission.”

By: Karlyn McKall 

This article originally appeared in volume 8, issue 11, The Jaguars Issue