By KYW community affairs reporter Cherri Gregg
VINELAND, N.J. (CBS) — Justin Tyler Barnabei loved team sports.
“He was a huge Dallas Cowboy fan, which was interesting, because in our house we love the Eagles,” recalls Dan Drutz, Justin’s uncle. “He was just a great kid, a big wresting fan, really into music and the arts. Just an all-around kid.”
But last April, when Barnabei was just 18, the Cumberland Regional High School graduate passed away, after his second bout with acute lymphoblastic leukemia became too much to bear.
Drutz says Barnabei had a bone marrow transplant but later contracted a dangerous infection that spread.
“He fought till the very last day,” says Drutz, “but cancer sucks.”
Inspired by his nephew’s fighting spirit, Drutz says, the entire family wanted to keep Justin’s legacy alive. So they started the Justin T. Barnabei Foundation, to give scholarships to kids who overcome adversity and to families with children fighting cancer.
“We want to provide families with whatever financial support they need,” he says. “And not just the parents.”
Drutz recalls that he and his wife went back and forth for months from their home in South Jersey to Children’s Hospital, in Philadelphia, to see Justin when he was ill. He noticed that people were coming to CHOP for treatment from all over the country, and realized that if the cost of the back-and-forth was affecting his family, other families were likely experiencing an even greater struggle.
“We could have used the help,” Drutz says, “and there’s not a lot of places to turn to. And you don’t event know how many people deal with this.”
And the end of this school year, the Barnabei Foundation will give scholarships to kids at Fairfield Township Middle School and Cumberland Regional High School, and they’re just getting started.
“We’re hoping in five to ten years we’re going to be huge,” Drutz says, “and this foundation makes sure we never forget him.”
The Barnabei Foundation is holding its first annual Poker Bike Run on May 9th, in South Jersey. More info at teambarnabei.org.
Know someone in your community who cares enough to give back? Nominate them for KYW Newsradio news coverage at firstname.lastname@example.org!