Annual Spirit Awards 2022

Each year at our Annual Benefit, we present awards to honor those who demonstrate dedication to our mission by providing inspiration, time, talent and other resources.

We are proud to introduce you to the recipients of our 2022 Spirit Awards!

Maria Rubino Jennings Spirit of Caring Award

Presented in honor and memory of Maria who helped create Support Connection’s Peer Counseling program and other services. Like Maria, the recipients have made a positive difference in many lives through the power of caring.

Support Connection’s Peer Counselors throughout the years: Maria Jennings, Dolly Acocella, Andrea Karl, Robin Perlmutter, Tina Coyle and Marlene Stager

Maria Jennings joined Support Connection as a volunteer in 1997. After her own breast cancer experience, in addition to receiving excellent medical care, she recognized the need for support. Maria wanted to help others by offering empathetic, compassionate care. After several years as a volunteer breast cancer facilitator, Maria joined the Support Connection staff in 2000 and remained with us until her passing in 2008.

Maria had the ability to connect with each person who reached out for support, appreciating individual needs and concerns. She understood that many people were more comfortable talking to her in person or on the phone rather than attending a support group. It was this understanding that helped her create Support Connection’s One-on-One Peer Counseling Program. Offering personalized support, the program was designed to emphasize the importance of Talking, Listening and Caring between a counselor and the person reaching out for support. Whether it be a shoulder to lean on, a request for information, or services such as wellness programs, this program ensures that each person gets the help she or he needs. The program quickly grew and stands as the cornerstone of Support Connection’s free breast, ovarian and gynecological cancer support services. These services are available to the person with cancer as well as those who love them.

Maria’s compassion, sensitivity and vast knowledge of breast cancer resources enabled her to help many people and their families who were dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis. Today, because of her deep sense of caring and her insight, Support Connection has helped thousands of people through our Peer Counseling program.

As Support Connection celebrates its 25th Silver Jubilee, it is very fitting to pay tribute to Support Connection’s Peer Counselors through the years. We honor the memory of Maria, Dolly and Andrea; thank Tina for the years she worked with us; and thank Robin and Marlene for their continued dedication. These women have used their own experience with cancer so that a person diagnosed with breast, ovarian or gynecological cancer has somewhere to turn. Maria’s gift of caring for others continues through the counselors who have followed in her footsteps.

Dolly and Mike Acocella Spirit of Giving Award

Presented to those who are an inspiration to others and clearly demonstrate what it means to give of oneself. They are people who help Support Connection help others by giving wholeheartedly through volunteering and promoting our mission, as Dolly and Mike always did. (Learn all about Dolly and Mike here.)

Michael and Lori Barr

Michael and Lori first became involved with Support Connection when Michael met Executive Director Kathy Quinn. Michael spent many years working as an IT professional at Avon Products. In the early 2000’s, Avon held an event where the Avon Foundation presented grants to local non-profit organizations. Along with some other Avon employees, Michael was part of a band that performed at the event. Michael says: “As a Yorktown resident, I was familiar with Support Connection. When I met Kathy at the Avon event, she asked our band to play at the upcoming Support-A-Walk. We were happy to do it.”

From that point forward, Michael and Lori’s commitment to Support Connection grew. The Avon employees’ band played at a number of Support Connection events. When that band stopped performing, Michael and Lori began playing at the events with their own duo “The Barr Band.” Michael plays guitar and sing; Lori sings and plays percussion and flute. They became regulars at the Support-A-Walk, playing in the same spot at FDR Park each year to entertain and encourage walkers. They’ve also performed at other fundraisers whenever they’ve been asked. In addition, their son Jeremy designed the logo for the 2006 Support-A-Walk.

The Barr’s giving spirit extends across the community. They have played benefits for other local causes, and for months after the pandemic started, they played monthly “quarantine concerts” in the cul-de-sac in their neighborhood. But Support Connection holds a special place in their hearts. Michael’s grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer, as were several of their friends. Michael and Lori participated in several Support-A-Walks in support of friends who are cancer survivors. Lori says: “Everyone has been affected by this disease, whether having it themselves or knowing a loved one suffering from its effects. Support Connection does amazing work for those who need it most.”

Receiving the Dolly and Mike Acocella Spirit of Giving Award means a lot to Michael and Lori. They say: “We are so appreciative of this honor. The work that Support Connection does every day is incredible. They provide so much needed support to those dealing with cancer, which is such an integral part of recovery. We are happy to be just a small part of that. To be associated with this organization is the ultimate honor.”

Julie Haney Spirit of Hope Awards

Presented in honor and memory of Julie, who found the support she needed from our Peer Counselors. Julie exuded hope and was a bright light to all who knew her. It is given to individuals who offer inspiration to fellow cancer survivors, as Julie did. By sharing their personal stories, they empower others to reach out to us for help and encourage people to support our free services.

Karen Stachowicz

Karen is a breast cancer survivor whose involvement with Support Connection goes back many years: “I started my relationship with Support Connection in Dec. 2002 when I called and spoke to Maria Jennings. I was in a state of panic: I had just been told I had breast cancer. I was 38 years old, 26 weeks pregnant with my second child, a wife, and mother to a 3 year old. Maria calmed me down right away. The way she spoke to me turned off my fight/flight brain; she helped me get my thinking brain back. As a pediatric physical therapist I had always been level-headed about medical emergencies; Maria was able to wake up that part of me again. Together we spoke of a plan.”

Part of the plan Maria helped Karen formulate was to try our support groups: “I found what I needed when I joined the Young Women’s Support Group: a group of women (including the group’s facilitators) who, like me, were diagnosed with cancer before age 40. This was the beginning of a love affair with a group of women that got me through my cancer treatments… the birth of my daughter who had many unrelated medical conditions… the loss of my daughter at 13 months. They helped me find myself so I could care for my family, especially my preschool age son.”

Karen’s “love affair” with Support Connection has continued ever since: “All along the way Support Connection has cared, helped, educated, and nourished my soul. A cancer diagnosis in not a finite thing. This is where Support Connection is truly different. I have utilized their Peer Counselors and programs throughout my journey: from completion of treatments, to close-monitoring stage, to managing my lymphedema, and even dealing with the sense of loss when my son left for college. Now with the ongoing pandemic, which has caused new and flash-back stress, both Andrea and Robin were there for me. Through everything, Support Connection has been there to support and truly help me.”

In gratitude for the help she’s received, Karen is a true cheerleader for Support Connection. She is always willing to share her story to help and inspire others. And each year for the Support-A-Walk, with support from family and friends, she organizes “TEAMitzvah” (her team at Temple Beth Am) to raise funds and spread the word about the organization: “The joy I receive from spreading Support Connection’s mission to as many people as I can is just a small part of why I stay involved. I truly believe that women and families need this organization to navigate a cancer diagnosis. I cannot even fathom going through this journey without them. I am celebrating 19 years since my diagnosis, 17 years since I completed treatment, and my soon-to-be 23 year old son is finishing college, but I will never be done with my involvement with Support Connection. I am therefore extremely honored and humbled to receive the Spirit of Hope award because that is what Support Connection gives me each day: Hope.”

Debra Paget

Debra is an ovarian cancer survivor who first reached out to Support Connection 23 years ago: “When I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1998, Support Connection was an important resource. I had surgery to remove a mass on December 23rd and woke up in the recovery room to hear the words ‘ovarian cancer.’ Then I didn’t see my doctor again until after the holidays. That three week period gave me time to learn as much as I could about ovarian cancer. Back then, there were very few resources about ovarian cancer. But I found Support Connection: They sent me documentation and helped me put together questions to ask my doctor, so by the time my follow-up appointment came, I was prepared.”

Debra also relied on Support Connection in more recent years when her sister was diagnosed with breast cancer: “Support Connection was my lifeline when my sister Barbara was diagnosed. I was one of several caregivers for her. The impact a loved one’s illness has on caregivers is often underestimated. But not at Support Connection. They understood my need to have someone to talk with, outside of my family. They supported me throughout my sister’s illness.”

Debra began volunteering for Support Connection when she retired in 2008. “Support Connection became a place (both physical and emotional) where I could spend my time, using my skills and experiences to help the organization and those they serve.” She used her IT skills to help with the rollout of peer-to-peer fundraising for the Support-A-Walk. She loves photography, so she volunteered to take photos at some events. Debra has also openly shared her personal story many times to help raise awareness about ovarian cancer, something she is very passionate about.

Debra has also raised thousands of dollars as a top Support-A-Walk fundraiser every year, even after moving out-of-state: “I’ve often said that when I refer friends or family to Support Connection, and those friends or family call in, they receive the same exact educational and emotional support no matter where they live. Even after I moved out of NY, the support provided to me and to my friends and family never ended, so neither did my fundraising efforts.”

Debra is humbled by being chosen for this award: “Quite frankly, I’m a little embarrassed by the attention. At the same time, I see this as recognition of my contributions to an organization that does great work. Personally, I can’t even measure the impact Support Connection has had on my life. So, I am grateful for this honor, and if I’ve given even one person a little bit of hope, then I’ve met my intentions.”

Learn all about the 2022 Benefit here.

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