On March 29, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation honored several inspiring individuals at the 16th annual Volunteer Leadership Conference (VLC) by presenting them with awards for their efforts to help advance the Foundation's mission. Their commitment to help those living with CF and their spirit of collaboration underscored this year's conference theme, teamMATEs: Stronger Together.
Tomorrow's Leader Award
The 2019 Tomorrow's Leader Award was presented to not one, but two individuals in the CF community. The first award recipient, Harris Markowitz, became involved with the Foundation 10 years ago when a friend's daughter was diagnosed with CF. After becoming the chair of the Young Professional Leadership Council in Greater New York, he was one of only a few volunteers asked to help build the Tomorrow's Leaders program nationwide. Over the past few years, he has dedicated his time working with volunteers and chapters from across the country to help start their individual programs.
The second award recipient was Jessica Coniglio, a long-time volunteer who first got involved through the Guys and Dolls Finest event in Charlotte, N.C. After joining the Finest event committee, she served on her chapter board, became its chair, moved onto the leadership council, and now serves as the Tomorrow's Leaders Leadership Council Chair. She has helped raise $120,000 to support the Foundation over the past decade, serving as a supportive volunteer and an incredible teamMATE.
The Jena Award, named for Margarete and Marc Cassalina's daughter, Jena, who bravely lived with cystic fibrosis until the age of 13, acknowledges the contributions of someone without a personal connection to CF who has shown persistent dedication to the fight against the disease. This year's recipient was Sue Hook.
Although Hook does not have a direct family connection to CF, she has made helping those with CF her life's mission. At 15-years-old, Sue learned a boy in her neighborhood had CF, and decided to form a club dedicated to conquering CF, called “The Conquerettes.” For the last 50 years, she has been a powerful voice in support of those living with CF, attending nearly every event hosted by the Orange County Chapter and surrounding local chapters. She has held numerous leadership positions, including 30 years as the Orange County Gala Chairman. She is responsible for helping raise millions of dollars for the Foundation.
The Alex Award is presented in honor of the late Frank Deford's daughter, Alex, who passed away from cystic fibrosis at the young age of 8. This award goes to a person with cystic fibrosis who reflects perseverance, tenacity, and courage in every aspect of their life. This year's recipient, Somer Love, has devoted her life to giving back to the CF community and helping others pursue their dreams.
From the time she was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at 11-months-old, her family joined the fight to find a cure, and helped establish the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation chapter in Utah. She started the Love to Breathe organization dedicated to spreading CF awareness and love across the globe. Through coaching young people about the importance of doing daily treatments and supporting her local chapter, Love remains a source of inspiration and strength to many.
Dream Big Award
The Dream Big Award, which recognizes someone who has made an enormous difference in the fight against cystic fibrosis, was given to Bernie Willett. After losing two sisters to the disease 50 years ago, he became passionate about advocating for people with CF through participating at March on the Hill and at local advocacy events in New England.
Bernie also brought American Airlines to the CF Foundation as a corporate supporter, helping to establish the American Airlines Celebrity Ski event, which has raised over $30 million since it began 35 years ago. He also secured placement for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation for the American Airlines Kids in Need program, which contributes hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. Although Willett retired from American Airlines four years ago, he continues to support local chapter events, secure national sponsors, and leverage relationships to help benefit the mission of the Foundation.
Congratulations to all of this year's honorees!