BRIGANTINE — Hundreds of residents and business owners enjoyed live music, raffles and food Nov. 4 at Laguna Rum Bar to raise money to help a local 19-year-old continue his recovery from a brain injury.
Jason Kuharik, of Galloway Township, suffered a severe brain injury from an accident in July. According to a GoFundMe page set up by Teresa Diamantopoulos, Kuharik was in the Atlantic City ICU for seven weeks and was later transferred to a Pennsylvania rehabilitation center. Kuharik, who was a sophomore at University of North Carolina Wilmington, has started a lengthy recovery process that includes therapies to help him regain basic functions along with nutrition support.
Kuharik is known in the community as being an avid paddle boarder and surfer. His mother and father, Patricia Kuharik and Mike Kuharik, who works as a carpenter for Resorts Casino in Atlantic City, live in Galloway and grew up in Brigantine.
Kathleen Loeben of Galloway, whose son grew up with Kuharik, said she and about ten other volunteers got to work immediately to help the family and started planning the fundraiser in September.
“The Kuhariks have just been pillars of the Brigantine community for so long,” Loeben said. “They’re just such great people. Good people attract good people. So, when this happened, there were so many people in the community — from Resorts, from Brigantine, and Jason’s friends — who just felt that they had to come together to do something to help Jason.”
Those who attended were encouraged to wear their favorite surf T-shirts and pose for pictures in front of a crashing wave. Signs posted on every dining table said all photos would be compiled into a slide show for Jason.
Local band Either Way, whose members know the Kuharik family, played as guests placed their raffle tickets into bags for a chance to win more than 50 prizes all donated from local businesses such as Primal Surf, Borgata and Resorts casino.
Jim Karabasz of Extreme Windsurfing, where Jason Kuharik worked as a paddle board instructor for six years at Lakes Bay, also gifted Jason with a new surfboard, on which guests were encouraged to write encouraging messages for him.
“I am sure its going to work,” Mike Kuharik said. “When he sees that, it’s really going to spur him to get back into it.”
Owner of Laguna Rum Bar Rip Reynolds donated the space and food for the event.
Patricia Kuharik was unable to attend the fundraiser in order to take care of Jason. Mike Kuharik thanked everyone who crowded the restaurant for their overwhelming support.
Kuharik said the community responded immediately and simple tasks such as bringing over food and making sure their lawn was cut made a huge difference.
“You forget about eating when you go through this,” he said. “Those people I’ll never forget.”
Kuharik also recited the lyrics to Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic,” which he said he and his son listened to many nights during his recovery, to announce that Jason will approach another milestone in his recovery process.
“‘When that fog horn whistle blows, I will be coming home,’ and he will be coming home Tuesday,” Kuharik announced.
Jason will start on outpatient rehab Nov. 6.
Proceeds from the fundraiser and the GoFundMe page will go toward urgent expenses relating to local housing, medical, rehabilitation and equipment for the family.
As of Thursday morning, the GoFundMe page had raised $19,272 of its $50,000 goal. Donations can be made at gofundme.com/the-jason-kuharik-medical-fund.