Prevent drowning by
Promoting water safety
In 2010, our family lived in a rental home on a lake in North Carolina. The property was around ¾ acre with an unfenced yard and a dock on the lake. Our 3 children were ages 7, 4, and 2. Being an overprotective mom, our kids were never allowed outside without an adult. I knew the lake represented some amount of risk, however, I naively assumed that because we didn’t let them out of our sight that our vigilance would keep them safe. That spring we let the kids jump off the dock into the lake to daddy and then paddle and kick around to the ladder, climb up, and jump again. They thought this was great fun with daddy and we thought it was a positive family activity and good practice before swim lessons that summer. Jack, who was 4.5, enjoyed it the most. We did that maybe 3 times in the spring, always wearing their life vests.
So, on June 5 when Jack asked if they could jump in the lake with their grandparents who were visiting, I said yes, and reminded him of our 2 rules: always have a grown up with him and to wear his life vest. My husband was playing golf that Saturday morning and the rest of us were just hanging out at home. I did chores like watering flowers and the garden while the kids and grandparents played in the lake. They finished, hung up the towels and life vests on the back deck, and went inside for dry clothes. I continued watering plants before going inside to the kitchen. I heard what I thought to be all 3 kids upstairs with a grandparent, but when they came downstairs there were only 2 kids. I wasted precious time searching for Jack by thinking he was hiding in the house or had crossed the street to a neighbor’s home to see her dog. It did not cross my mind to check the lake; I just didn’t think my kid would go near the water without a grown up. But, he did.
What Drives Us
Lets work together to educate and empower children to make safer choices and smart choices about water safety. Teach children to swim early, read stories about water safety, and implement several safety measures in and around water in our homes and communities.
Education and resources for
Give today and support our mission to prevent drownings.
Participate in events we host or water safety courses.
Supporting Our Cause
Our Board of Directors
Gene Helbig joined the foundation six years ago with a passion for helping others in his community. Before moving to NC in 2015, Gene had been a part of many organizations around his community, including Garrett Memorial Hospital Board Treasurer and Oakland Maryland Volunteer Fire Department Lieutenant and Treasurer. His main motivation for joining JHMF was his family. Being Jack’s grandfather, Jack’s death affected him and he wanted to help the foundation grow. With this experience he spent time as our treasurer before transferring the position to Cynthia Alderman. Gene sees success of the foundation as utilizing the funds the community entrusts us with to responsibly implement water safety projects.
Domenic “Mick” Palagruto, DO joined the JHMF board in April of 2022, and has lived in NC since 2001. He has worked with the Brunswick Wellness Coalition as a volunteer, as well as held leadership positions in the Brunswick County Medical Society, and has been a volunteer at New Hope Clinic since 2003. As a family physician, Mick understands how important drowning prevention is, and brings a fresh perspective into the foundation and will help us achieve the mission of preventing drowning through education and awareness. Mick would like to see increased access to community pools for swim lessons.
Melanie Roberts was promoted president of the board swiftly after joining in 2019, gaining the title in early 2020. Her previous experience in volunteering in schools and various other organizations such as March of Dimes, Women in Nuclear, and American Nuclear Society give her the skills to manage the board and help pivot to needed services. Melanie was born in South Dakota, but has lived in North Carolina for most of her life. She cares about families and her NC community and strives to make a difference. Success of the foundation means that families don’t have to suffer the loss of a family member due to drowning.
Samara Pierce has been working on the board as the School Liaison since June of 2022. She has been a member of Mom’s Club, and Jr. Women’s Club, and has worked/volunteered as an event planner for Samara’s Village. As a preschool and kindergarten teacher, she joined to increase communication between the foundation and schools, especially as we promote the water safety presentations for kindergarten students. Samara uses her skills to facilitate education of water safety in public schools. She has lived in NC for almost 20 years and is passionate about saving lives. Her idea of success for the foundation is to have the funds to build a local pool in order to provide swimming lessons.
Justin Helbig is a founder of JHMF. He took on the role of secretary in 2012, and has held that position ever since. Justin is Jack’s father; he and Kelly Helbig, his wife, created the foundation to keep other families from experiencing the loss of a child from drowning. He has lived in the area for 15 years, and uses his social network to connect the foundation to resources we need in order to accomplish our goals. Justin sees the success of the foundation as teaching all Brunswick County elementary school children how to swim.
Ken Hutton has been with JHMF for a year. Previous to that, he had worked in law enforcement, and as a rescue diver. Ken has since retired, and enjoys giving back to his community. As a close friend of Gene Helbig, he heard what happened to his grandson and about the work the foundation was doing. Ken decided he would assist in our efforts to prevent drowning. Ken’s idea of success for the foundation is to provide lifesaving devices at as many beaches as possible, and teach children to swim.
Lena Robke joined the Jack Helbig Memorial Foundation in early 2022. She has experience volunteering for state organizations, and in her home community, Boiling Spring Lakes, NC. Lena has lived in NC the majority of her life, having grown up in Cape Hatteras, but recently moved to her current home in 2017. Living near the water was a deciding factor in choosing this community. Lena was drawn to serve this nonprofit foundation based on the mission and knows that the key to saving lives is through water safety education. She uses her experience and keen problem solving skills, fueled by her desire to help her community, to elevate the foundation into meeting our goals.
Cynthia Alderman has been Treasurer on the board for two years. Cynthia works with Justin Helbig and has young grandchildren, so she sees the importance of the work JHMF is doing in preventing drowning. She has a good understanding of what the board and foundation need financially, and uses her knowledge and experience to ensure the board has funds to execute their goals. Cynthia enjoys doing outreach with children in the schools.
Kelly Helbig is a founder of JHMF, creating it with her husband, Justin Helbig in 2012. She currently serves as the executive director. Before JHMF, Kelly volunteered at La Leche League International through local groups in Virginia, then in Southport from 2006-2012, taught at Sacred Heart Catholic Church and works as a teacher with A Nesting Place Preschool in Southport, NC. Kelly is Jack’s mother, and created the foundation to prevent future childhood drownings. She is able to plan outreach towards target audiences (children and their caregivers), and uses her strong listening and communication skills to interact with them. Her idea of success for the foundation is a significant decrease in pediatric deaths due to drowning in NC.
HAVE A PASSION FOR PREVENTING DROWNING? JOIN US!
Want to share a talent or skill that our non-profit could use? Consider serving a term on our Board of Directors. Complete our application and contact us to schedule a time to meet. We look forward to hearing from you!