BROCTON - "They say it takes a village to raise a child. I think that's clearly evident here today."
Those were the sentiments of Chris Sausaman, who along with a well-organized committee of volunteers helped produce a massive fundraising memorial benefit to honor the late Damon Janes.
In the midst of the hustle and bustle of spaghetti dinners being handed out (200 went out in 40 minutes); auction bids being accepted both in person and over the phone for large ticket items including donations from Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres players; and a steady stream of bands taking to an outdoor stage from The Nickel Plate Depot in Brocton, Sausaman and Depot proprietor Julie Fortner took a breather to comment on the heartfelt turnout for Damon's family.
OBSERVER Photo by Ann Belcher
Al Seavy of the St. Stephen’s Hotel prepares to send off more 200 bikes in the Damon Janes Memorial Benefit Bike Run Sunday. Bikers from all over Western New York and Pennsylvania and further were led off by Janes’ uncle, Greg, pictured on the green bike, as a community and nationally recognized event honored Damon’s life.
OBSERVER Photo by Ann Belcher
It was kickstands up at noon in Brocton Sunday for the Damon Janes Memorial Benefit Bike Run, held at the St. Stephen’s Hotel and coordinated by ABATE, Chautauqua County and the Nickel City Nomads. A benefit spaghetti dinner at the Nickel Plate Depot followed. Both events boasted crowds of hundreds who came out to honor the late teen and his family.
"We just want Damon's family to know that we really share in their heartache, and we love and support them. We had bikers come in all the way from Erie, Pennsylvania today for our Bike Run at the St. Stephen' , which included over 230 bikes, just to be a part of this. That's just amazing to me," added Sausaman.
"It just makes me really proud to be part of this community and I just hope the support continues on after today," added Fortner.
The day after Damon's injury, Sausaman and Fortner had discussed with their friends how they could help. Learning that Damon had succumbed to his injuries on the field, "Just fueled the fire for us to do something everything literally just fell into place, we were approached by so many businesses and individuals that we didn't even have to approach people for help or donations," noted Sausa-man.
A social media post letting the community know that there would be a public planning meeting at the Depot sparked the right combination of volunteers who immediately went into action.
Fundraising coordinator Karen Cave commented, "Chris, on behalf of the Nickel City Nomads bike group, and Julie, on behalf of the Nickel Plate Depot, put out a general announcement that they would like to raise money for The Damon Janes Memorial Fund. Our first meeting, we had over 40 people, including students, who were ready to get this done in a week and a half."
Karen's fellow fundraising committee member, Dawn Grzegorzewski was shocked to witness simple word of mouth spread across the country and into organizations such as the NFL and NHL, which led to a coast-to-coast response.
"We've had monetary donations come from as far as Oregon, Florida and even former Brocton native Loretta Ribble, who currently resides in Wisconsin, literally sent us her entire days' worth of tips from the restaurant where she works to donate to Damon's fund," she said.
One person who was not shocked by the outpouring of love and support from near and far was Mark Witmer, who spoke Sunday from the Depot on behalf of Damon's family.
Witmer, who is a best friend to Damon's father Dean, looked around at the crowd and stated, "I'm not surprised by this at all. Growing up here in Brocton, it's just what people do. Some might say it's a bad thing to live in a small community where everybody knows everything about you, but this is one of the really good things about a small community."
The event provided a nice welcome home to Witmer and his family, who recently moved back to the area following his retirement from the United States Army and feels the fundraiser will "be part of the healing process for the entire family. This is something they need and something the community needs."
Having lived all over the world as a career serviceman, Witmer stated the only other time outside of Western New York that he has seen an outpouring like this was from another small town which lost a teenager to a motor vehicle accident. Living in Cyriel, Okla., Witmer saw firsthand how the town "came together in a similar way, and the high school was small enough that it graduated only 15 students from its senior class, they honored that student's life in a similar way, and this is what today is about honoring and celebrating Damon's life."
When asked what a testament to the kind of person Damon was to bring out such an outpouring of love on Sunday, Witmer smiled.
"I'll share what I've learned talking to all of Damon's classmates. He truly gave 110 percent in everything he did that's very important to note. Whether it was motocross, or football, anything, it was always 110 percent. And his friends have all said they could be mad at him one minute and as soon as he cracked that huge smile of his, everything was forgotten a second later."
Even after the last band stepped off the stage Sunday, and the last lantern was sent into the air in honor of Damon, Witmer, along with Fortner and Sausaman, remind the community, the region and beyond that continued prayers and support for the family are still needed and donations can still be received by the Memorial Fund, which is set up at Community Bank.
Cave and Grzegorzewski were still receiving donations for the massive auction taking place inside the Depot. Since the space was literally out of room to fit any more items into Sunday's auction, Cave announced that any overflow donations will be handed over to volunteers of the Fundraiser Chicken and Biscuit Dinner and Auction being held Oct. 6 at the Westfield Moose Lodge and being sponsored by the Westfield's Women of The Moose chapter.
"We absolutely are going to support their event and any extra, late-coming baskets or donations received will be going directly to The Women of The Moose fundraiser," Cave said.
All volunteers responded they couldn't even estimate how many attendees turned out for Sunday's event. Aside from a lineup of seven bands, which all stepped forward to volunteer their entertainment, a children's activities booth, as well as a specially designed motocross track and a vendor booth for Damon Janes T-shirts and ribbons welcomed a huge crowd.
Witmer was especially glad to welcome Alex Abramov of NogginSport.com who was on hand to deliver his company's one-of-a-kind, original Noggins, a gel-infused skull cap that fits under any sports helmet and protects against concussion and minor traumatic brain injuries.
While the CEO declined to formally comment since he was there strictly to support Janes' parents, Penny Gilbert-Robinson and Dean Janes, and Damon's younger siblings, Witmer expressed his appreciation for his presence noting Damon's parents' long-term goal is to see proceeds from Sunday's event put a Noggin on the heads of as many football players, from youth to high school as possible in Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties.
"If Damon's parents, along with Noggin, can prevent this type of tragedy in any other community, that's what they want to do. It's all about traumatic brain injury awareness and it's a good preventative tool that just needs to get into the right hands and onto players' heads," Witmer said.
Noggin Sports has crafted caps bearing "DJ 25" in honor of Damon available for sale and is donating a portion of their sales back to Damon's memorial fund. For more information on how to obtain the Noggins or donate to the memorial fund, visit the Facebook page titled "Damon Janes Memorial Benefit" or Nogginsport.com. The Oct. 6 Chicken and Biscuit Dinner details can also be found on Facebook at its page titled "Damon Janes Family Chick-en & Biscuit Benefit Dinner."