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J.T. Townsend lays the foundation

(Photo by Andrew Noble)

By: Dargan Thompson, Assistant Features Editor


In his senior year at Episcopal High School, J.T. Townsend made a tackle during a football game and found he could not get up.

At first, Townsend thought his lung had collapsed, but he soon found out it was a spinal cord injury; an injury that made him a quadriplegic.

The injury occurred in 2004, and in the months and years following, he and his family faced a lot of new difficulties and expenses. Townsend said they received a lot of support from the Jacksonville community.

Townsend, now a UNF sports management senior, recently decided it was time to start giving back. Last April, Townsend started the J.T. Townsend Foundation, with the goal of providing medical equipment to people living with disabilities in the First Coast.

“Not a lot of people in my situation are as fortunate or blessed enough to have the community rally behind them after a disability or an unexpected incident,” he said.

There are a lot of expenses that go into having a disability, he said, and insurance doesn’t cover all the costs. The foundation is a perfect way to start helping with those costs.

So far, the foundation has been able to provide adaptive equipment to five people. Townsend gets to deliver the equipment and meet the people the foundation is helping.

“It just warms my heart to be able to be in that position to help others out,” he said, “and just seeing the smile on their face and how appreciative they are to get it.”

Judi Zitiello, the board chair of the foundation, said people are always eager to meet Townsend, especially the kids whom the foundation has helped. She said meeting Townsend helps children realize they’re not alone and not that different.

Townsend is determined to not let his disability get in his way. He said he still goes to the mall and the movies, hangs out with friends and attends sporting events.

“I do it all,” he said. “I don’t let the wheelchair hold me back at all.”

Townsend said he always figured he would continue with his education and his life. In 2005, he started taking a few classes at UNF. Coming to college was not too hard of a transition for him, he said.

“As long as you’ve got a mind that works, it’s fine,” Townsend said.

(Photo by Andrew Noble)

The difficult part, he said, was having to have someone else write for him. Townsend said the UNF Disability Resource Center helped him by talking to his teachers and making sure he had the necessary accommodations.

Townsend spoke March 2 at the dedication of the new college of education addition, which houses the DRC.

He was a good spokesperson, he said, since he has seen the growth of the DRC through the years he’s been at UNF.

Dr. Kristine Webb, director of the DRC, said Townsend is an amazing advocate for the center’s students.

“He’s such a contributing member of our UNF community,” she said. “He gives back much more than we can give him.”

Townsend hopes to graduate UNF in the fall and do marketing for a sports team. As far as his foundation, Townsend said his goal is to reach out to as many people as possible. He wants to raise money to help more people and also make people aware of those with disabilities.

Showing people the clients the foundation has helped so far is contributing to both goals, he said.

“I think it’s touching a lot of hearts,” Townsend said.

Townsend said he hopes the foundation will get bigger and bigger as the years go by, and the people he helps will be inspired to help others.

“I think the circle can kind of keep going,” he said. “As I got helped, I’m helping someone else, and eventually, they get better and help someone else. Keep trickling around.”


Email Dargan Thompson at [email protected].

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