By Rachel Jones + Sierra Smith | Photographs by Michael Fornataro

With a mission to find a cure for blood cancer, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) works nonstop to raise funds and awareness, supporting research and treatments to help patients in need and prevent the number of patients in the future. It’s a daunting, though possible, mission, made even more possible through LLS’ Man & Woman of the Year campaign. Across the U.S., compassionate, energetic leaders in the community are nominated for the title and spend 10 weeks raising money for LLS. Each dollar raised counts as one vote for the title, and the winner for Man of the Year & Woman of the Year are announced at a grand finale celebration. Before the Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia Chapter declares its winner on May 20, we wanted to introduce you to this year’s nominees. Each one joined the campaign for different reasons, but they are all kind, dedicated individuals who are working toward one amazing goal: to find a cure for cancer and help families around the world.

Rocco Cozza

Rocco Cozza, general counselor of Ness USA Inc., first found out about LLS through his college fraternity’s philanthropic efforts. Although Cozza is already an avid participant in the nonprofit community — where he volunteers, and holds a board position with Alpha House Inc. and a trustee position with Chartiers Valley Education Fund — he was looking for a way to get more involved. Enter, LLS. “I wanted to be involved because I have a connection with LLS through college and, really, I wanted to use my network to help raise money for a good cause,” Cozza says. Unfortunately, just as the fundraising campaign was set to begin in February, Cozza’s best friend’s father passed away due to complications from leukemia. “When that whole thing happened, it brought a whole new meaning to this.” Throughout the campaign, Cozza has been reaching out to businesses for sponsorships, using his personal and professional networks to raise as much money as possible. However, Cozza says, “it’s not about winning, it’s about doing what I can with the resources I have to raise awareness for the organization.” Although fundraising has been a little more of a challenge than Cozza originally expected, in the end, he says it’s all worth it. “Everyone knows someone who has cancer or who has dealt with cancer,” he says. “I think the more you can do and the more you can raise, the more it helps everybody.”

Brielle Audino

Brielle Audino, resource manager for Robert Half Management Resources, is no stranger to LLS’ Man & Woman of the Year campaign. Last year, Audino served on a Man of the Year support team, and now, 2016’s Woman of the Year Jessie Godina O’Bruba is acting as Audino’s campaign manager. Beyond this event, Audino is involved in a host of other nonprofits, like the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the American Heart Association, but her main focus is still cancer research. “I’m a huge advocate for anything that involves cancer research,” Audino says. This is because her family has a long history of different cancers, including breast cancer, lung cancer, cervical cancer, melanoma, and pancreatic cancer. “I hate cancer!” she says. Ten days after the Man & Woman of the Year kick-off, Audino celebrated her 30th birthday surrounded by friends and family, and in lieu of gifts, she asked guests for donations to her LLS campaign. In addition, Audino is hosting a mini golf event — her boyfriend, former 50 Finest Chad Irving, built an 18-hole mini golf course in their house; a spaghetti dinner at Gallo’s Italian Villa in New Castle; a golf outing at the Treesdale Country Club; and a purse bash at the Cranberry Elks Club. “A ton of effort is going into the campaign with a lot of great people supporting the cause,” she says. Her main motivation, though, is her sister-in-law’s cousin, Brandon, who passed away over six years ago from acute lymphoblastic leukemia. “Being a part of the campaign is bigger than me, it’s bigger than anybody that I know, and it’s going toward a cause that will make an impact and make life better for everyone,” she says. Ultimately, Audino just wants to make a difference, to help others through her fundraising efforts. “The smallest donation helps go towards a bigger cause. So, don’t buy that extra drink or don’t go on that shopping trip this weekend. Just help people,” she says. “It means something to all 11 of us involved in the 2017 Man & Woman of the Year campaign in some form or another, and I’m grateful to be part of it.”

Ian Coyle

At the top of Ian Coyle’s resumé, you’ll find he’s the director of business development at e-Staff Consulting. But at the top of his to-do list? Help others. That’s why he started Semper Gratus., a nonprofit dedicated to helping people in need. “There’s a lot of fluidity to this nonprofit, it’s a lot of feel-good events,” says Coyle. “It’s a do-good organization for the benefit of others.” Last year, Semper Gratus. partnered with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, raising more than $10,000 for the organization. But now, as a Man of the Year nominee, fundraising for LLS is a little more personal. In addition to working with e-Staff Consulting and Semper Gratus., Coyle is also the owner of DJ Cai Entertainment, a wedding entertainment business. A year ago, one of the assistants working with DJ Cai Entertainment told Coyle about his 4-year-old niece’s leukemia diagnosis. At the time, “it didn’t really sink in that there was an opportunity to make a difference and get involved,” Coyle says. But when he found out about LLS, he knew he had to get involved for her. “Her story is incredible, her resiliency is noteworthy, and her love is contagious,” Coyle. “She’s endured the battle, is in remission, and is proof of the positive contributions of LLS.” Recently, Coyle hosted a Shamrock Shuffle 5K and an event called Small Town. Loud Voice., which amassed close to $15,000 to raise money for his campaign. The Small Town.Loud Voice. event was particularly impactful because Coyle’s assistant and his family were the special guests. “We wanted to help create a sense of normalcy for [his niece] and make her feel like a princess, so we honored them and surprised her with a motorized princess carriage and princess dress, tiara, and wand that came out and all of that stuff.” Fundraising for LLS goes beyond just Coyle’s immediate circle, though. “At the end of the day, it’s not about me. It’s about giving back and being selfless,” he says. “There can’t be enough positive influences in the world right now.”

Dionna DiBernardo Bertram

Dionna DiBernardo Bertram, senior client associate and officer of Wells Fargo Advisors, puts the “fun” in “fundraising.” Through hosting exciting events, including outings to Painting with a Twist and selling tickets to the  “Ultimate Bourbon Experience,” Bertram knows how to get people engaged and involved. “I try to schedule events that attract different types of people. Not just focused around alcohol,” she laughs, “but other fun activities, too.” Now, as a nominee for Woman of the Year, she gets to put her fundraising skills to the ultimate test. “I take every opportunity, no matter where I’m at and no matter who I’m in front of, to mention the program, in addition to the Woman of the Year [nomination].” However, Bertram isn’t new to LLS: in fact, she’s been fundraising on their behalf for over 20 years. After losing her father in 1996 to stage four non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and her grandfather in 2000 to esophageal and stomach cancer, Bertram has “had a passion for fundraising with LLS, to help other families and help fund other research.” And although she’s not formally involved with any particular nonprofit organization, when she’s not managing accounts and handling “curveballs” thrown her way, Bertram volunteers expansively through Wells Fargo by selling tickets and helping out with fundraising events. “I try to do as much as I can to help others. If I’m raising money, I have to believe it’s making a difference,” Bertram says. Being nominated for Woman of the Year is “a real honor,” says Bertram, but her ultimate goal is just to do all she can for LLS. “Cancer impacts many people, not just patients,” she says. “I dedicate a lot of my time because I’ve seen firsthand what fundraising dollars and volunteer hours have accomplished.”

John D. Goetz

John D. Goetz: Jones Day partner, licensed pilot, husband, father, Man of the Year nominee. Six years ago, Goetz’s wife, Julie Maloney, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia that was resistant to traditional treatments. “The prognosis was poor at the time. We were determined to fight for both Julie and our family,” Goetz says. The family — Goetz, Julie, and their adopted special needs daughter Tao — searched far and wide for an effective course of action, including treatments through the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital in Columbus and an experimental cell therapy program called CAR-T through the University of Pennsylvania. Thankfully, Julie’s condition is now in remission, but Goetz’s drive to find a cure for cancer is more active than ever. Now, as a Man of the Year nominee, Goetz says he has two main goals in mind as he raises money for LLS: to educate and to inspire hope. “[First], we want to educate the Pennsylvania and West Virginia communities about the cutting-edge treatments that really saved Julie’s life,” says Goetz. “Secondly, I want to give people hope. Faced with an aggressive and treatment-resistant condition that’s seemingly hopeless, there’s always incredible people in the medical community who care deeply about defeating this awful disease.” In addition to his wife, Goetz has many colleagues who have either been diagnosed with leukemia or have had family member who are affected. As an LLS nominee, “I’m merely the leader of a deep cause that’s personal to our office,” say Goetz. To kick-off his fundraising campaign, Goetz hosted an office-wide lunch where numerous people shared stories of their struggle and survival. Now, he wants to continue spreading the word, reaching outside of Jones Day to friends and to communities in Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia. “It’s important to continue the generous donations to provide funding for research studies and clinical trials,” Goetz says. “I think if that continues through programs like the Man & Woman of the Year, we will find a cure in our lifetime.”

Tammi K. Hanak

January 2017 marked the 20th anniversary of remission for Tammi K. Hanak, owner of Dynamic FX Fitness, group fitness instructor, and speech language pathologist at Peters Township School District. As a 22-year-old graduate student, Hanak was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, turning her life completely upside down. “I think that having cancer so young made me feel like I had a sense of urgency about living life in a certain way. I had to do everything then without waiting for someday because I didn’t know if I’d have a someday,” Hanak says. To celebrate her survival, her team members nominated the fundraising novice to spearhead one of the largest philanthropic causes in the City of Pittsburgh. “I couldn’t say no” says Hanak. “I knew that it would be something huge that I could say on my 20th year, I made some type of significant impact and really worked to make a difference … it’s my turn to do something big to give back.” To raise money for LLS, Hanak is organizing numerous events around the city, including a wine tasting event called Sip, Shop, and Sparkle and a campaign called Pennies for Pies, a spare change collection drive at her school that culminates with a pie-in-the-face party. In addition to creating the fun activity for her students, she’s also teaching them about the importance of cancer research. “I visit the classrooms and tell them how Mrs. Hanak had cancer, but I’m OK now because scientists found ways to make me better,” Hanak says. She tells them, “We can all find ways to support these scientists to find a cure to cancer.” Beyond raising money, though, Hanak truly just wants to help others. “It’s something I like to do, I enjoy doing, and I’d like to help other people do.”

Andrew Onorato

Andrew Onorato wants to leave the world a better place than he found it, and now, as a Man of the Year nominee, he can truly make a lasting impact. “A lot of people think, ‘Oh, I couldn’t do what you do, launch a fundraising campaign.’ But you don’t have to. You just have to support others. A little bit goes a long way,” says Andrew. As a self-employed business owner, working in residential construction, he somehow finds the time to support countless fundraising events, including participating in 2016’s Pittsburgh’s 50 Finest, sponsored by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. “In my earlier years, instead of participating in conventional night life activities young adults partake in, I would go to fundraising events where I felt the money I spent on fun would best be applied to support positive change,” he says. However, what really got him involved with LLS was his brother Giovanni’s leukemia diagnosis in February 2013. “I decided to run the UPMC Health Plan Pittsburgh Half Marathon to encourage my brother through his cancer treatments, and [I figured]if I’m going to do something like this, I might as well raise money for LLS. This year, I’ll be running my fourth full marathon for charity.” Although his first fundraising venture “didn’t go too well,” he kept it up, even after his brother’s passing, to honor him. “We didn’t really realize the profound impact Giovanni had on others until after his passing because he was very humble about the things he did for others and never boasted about his service,” Andrew says. “There were 700 people at his funeral, telling stories of how my brother was always there for them.” Like his brother before him, Andrew wants to impact the community and the world around him. Up next for him is the DICK’S Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon, where he’ll be garnering donations for LLS. “My ultimate goal is to prevent this from happening to somebody else’s family.”

Kathy Slencak

As the manager of public relations at CentiMark Corporation, which is North America’s largest commercial roofing and flooring company, Kathy Slencak’s job focuses on community relations and philanthropy. Her boss also owns several area restaurants, including LeMont Restaurant, where Slencak helps plan fundraising events. “Through work, I’ve done a lot of events for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, whether it was the Light the Night Walk or the Vegas at the Mon event at LeMont Restaurant,” Slencak says. “I’ve gotten to know LLS and I’ve gotten to know some of the families as well. They’ve become important parts of my life, through work and personally, as I’ve kept in touch with some of them.” Because of her work experiences and personal connection to LLS, Slencak was delighted and honored to accept her nomination for LLS’ 2017 Woman of the Year. “There are several reasons why I wanted to be involved,” she says. “First, I have several people close to me who are battling blood cancers. Second, I’m a huge Pitt Panthers basketball and football fan and ticket holder, so I wanted to do this to honor [University of Pittsburgh running back] James Conner and his battle with cancer. I always tell people, ‘How else can I thank him for beating Clemson and Penn State?’” While she usually spends her free time as a mentor and book club organizer for Girls Hope, a board member for CASA of Allegheny County, and a committee member for Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh, among other activities, Slencak is adding fundraising for LLS to her schedule. Through events, including one for March Madness; the acquisition of corporate sponsorships; and even having her nephew, who is a professional bass fisher, auction off a bass fishing trip, Slencak is working hard to reach her $50,000 goal. “Everybody hates cancer and everybody’s looking for a cure,” she says. “Particularly, there’s a little 8-year-old boy named Camden. He was the Boy of the Year for last year, and he’s had cancer since he was 2. He’s become very close to me through work and just me personally. Little faces like that make you be responsible for the cure.”

Karen Gross

Karen Gross, vice president of retail operations with BFS foods, is in her element when she’s managing large-scale operations: her typical work day with BFS includes overseeing and supervising the daily operations of 65 convenience stores. So now, running a huge fundraising campaign is no sweat for her! “I was honored to be nominated to help with such a great cause,” say Gross. Plus, she says, fundraising for LLS is close to her heart, as she knows many people who have been affected by the devastating disease. “I know many people that have lost loved ones from these diseases,” says Gross. “And I know all money raised will help in research for finding the cures.” Throughout the campaign, Gross has used a combination of sponsor letters, selling fundraising tickets, hosting events, and spreading LLS’ story via social media to raise as much money as she can. But for Gross, winning the Woman of the Year title isn’t what’s most important. Even she doesn’t win, Gross says, “I would be honored just knowing I’ve made a difference with such a great cause.” Plus, as she says on her LLS page, “Everyone wins when cancer loses … [these] efforts will help fund  the therapies and treatments that save lives, not someday but today.”

Jayme Butcher

Before this year’s Man & Woman of the Year campaign, Jayme Butcher wasn’t very familiar with LLS — because she already had her hands full! Not only is she a partner with Blank Rome, a national law firm, she also serves as a member of the National United Way Women’s Leadership Council (WLC), where she helps identify and establish WLC’s in United Way chapters across the country. “The United Way chapters that have a WLC enjoy advanced levels of donor engagement, volunteerism, and donor dollars, which makes it an easy business case as to why all chapters should have one.” In addition to her involvement in the Southwestern Pennsylvania and National United Way, she is also a member of the board of directors of the Sarah Heinz House. But, when a client, whose son is a leukemia survivor, nominated her to run for Woman of Year, she automatically said yes. In addition to her effort to learn more about LLS, her main motivation for participating in the campaign this year is her daughter, Avery. Avery’s a healthy and happy 11-year-old girl, but Jayme says she couldn’t even imagine something happening to her. “I, like any parent, would do anything to help my daughter,” so when her client reached out regarding the nomination, she instantly accepted. To raise funds and awareness, in addition to corporate sponsorships for the May 20 event, Jayme is hosting a number of fundraising events including a private shopping event for over 50 women at Emy Mack Collective, a boutique in Shadyside owned by Jayme’s friend and shoe designer Emy Mack Jamison, where she graciously donated a generous portion of the night’s sales to Jayme’s campaign. Ultimately, the campaign has been a learning experience for her. “It’s really been great just to get to know the people involved in LLS, and to learn about the medicine, the research, and the advancements that have been made,” she says. “And I’d very much like to stay involved after the campaign is over.”

TJ Reisdorf

After a young TJ Reisdorf, senior vice president and senior wealth adviser at First Commonwealth Advisors, lost his aunt to ovarian cancer, he began to see the impact of such a deadly disease. Then, when good friend and this year’s LLS Chair Bryan Kocher’s son, Matthew, was diagnosed with leukemia only two months before his 12th birthday, Reisdorf knew he had to do whatever he could to ease the burden of those affected by cancer. “It kind of hit home and stuck with me,” says Reisdorf. “I figured I’d do what I could to help.” Now, as a nominee for Man of the Year, Reisdorf has assembled an amazing fundraising team, many of whom have also been directly affected by cancer. Their goal? “To raise as much money as possible for LLS research, any way we can,” including social media shoutouts, direct mail appeals, sponsorship deals, silent auction donations, and more. In addition to his work with First Commonwealth Advisors, where he works with a team of experienced professionals to deliver a “private wealth experience,” Reisdorf is also the vice president of Family Life Fund of Pittsburgh, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping families struggling with childhood sickness. Throughout the year, Family Life Fund hosts events to raise money, partnering with organizations like Every Child Inc. and Jameson’s Army, so Reisdorf is no stranger to the fundraising game. “The funds we raise really can go to helping save lives,” he says. For Reisdorf, the most important thing is to always be working toward eradicating cancer and its devastating effects. “I don’t know one person who hasn’t, in some way, been affected by cancer,” says Reisdorf, “[so] to me, it’s just very important.” “But what about little Matthew Kocher?” you may ask. Well, he’s not so little anymore. “He’s going to medical school at Pitt!” says Reisdorf. “Matthew is doing wonderful.”

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