Volunteers honored for a decade of fighting pediatric cancer through Hugs for Brady Foundation

Sherrie and Michael Wells, of South Brunswick, founded Hugs for Brady in 2009, shortly after their 13-month-old son, Brady Michael, was diagnosed with non-differentiated acute leukemia, a very rare form of leukemia. In 2010, Brady passed away at 23 months old, after he had battled the disease for 10 months.

Several individuals who have made significant contributions to help those affected by childhood cancer will be honored at the Hugs for Brady winter gala.

Sherrie and Michael Wells of South Brunswick started the Hugs for Brady Foundation in 2009, shortly after their 13-month-old son, Brady Michael, was diagnosed with non-differentiated acute leukemia. In 2010, Brady passed away at 23 months old, after he had battled the disease for 10 months.

“Michael and I are proud of the accomplishments of the Hugs for Brady Foundation has accomplished in the name of our son Brady Michael. In 10 years, we raised more than $2 million, pledged $500,000 to Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey to fund the institute’s first laboratory devoted to its Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Program, pledged $300,000 to Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey to support-state-of-the-art research aimed at helping the youngest cancer patients, and distributed more than 270 Brady Buggy wagons to hospitals across the United States, allowing kids with cancer mobility during chemo treatments and giving them a little bit of whimsy during difficult times. Only 4% of cancer research funds are directed to pediatric oncology research and we know there is so much work for us to do,” Sherrie Wells said.

The 10th annual Hugs for Brady Foundation Winter Gala will be themed “Oh What a Night!,” featuring entertainment from the stars of Broadway’s “Jersey Boys,” on Jan. 25 at The Palace at Somerset Park, 333 Davidson Ave., Somerset.

The 2020 Gala Committee will receive the Ellen Gambatese Pediatric Cancer Volunteer of the Year recognition.

Walter Cmielewski of Eloquent Studios has been volunteering with Hugs for Brady for five years.

“I am happy to volunteer because it’s my way to give back to the community to help raise money for such an important cause. The Hugs for Brady charity is important to me since I have had people close to me struggle with cancer and thankfully survive. We all need to come together and fight this,” he said in a statement posted on the website.

Reina Diamond of Martin Insurance Group has been volunteering for eight years.

“This cause is important to me because my son has spent many months in the hospital, and we have seen many children battling illnesses, but by far most often cancer. I was moved to try to change that,” she said in a statement posted on the website.

Cora Park of Diamond Business Communications has been volunteering since 2016.

“Eradicating childhood cancer should be top of mind for one and all. Volunteering at their special events or assisting an event committee helps do that for me,” she said.

Anne Keller of Gloria Nilson & Co. Real Estate has been volunteering since the organization’s inception.

“I volunteer because no parent should ever have to lose a child. We live across the street from Mike and Sherrie and remember Brady very well. He was the sweetest and happiest little boy, and all of us on the street miss him. Cancer is ugly no matter who it affects, but it’s even worse when a child has it,” she said in a statement posted on the website.

Linda Van Derveer of State Theatre New Jersey has volunteered for more than five years.

The loss of a child is unthinkable for most of us, so when I heard how Sherrie and Mike took their tragic loss of Brady and turned around to create a loving and caring organization that helped others dealing with children with pediatric cancer, I knew I had to make time to help. I had worked at the Cancer Institute of New Jersey for nearly eight years and saw firsthand what patients, their families and friends dealt with on a daily basis; something we pray we never have to deal with,” she said in a statement posted on the website.

Joanne Scott-Santos of It’s Ur Wrap has been volunteering for the past three years.

“There is nothing more heartbreaking than to see a small child suffer; having been diagnosed with cancer myself I know firsthand what this entails. Working with this great organization to help eradicate this disease is a most worthy endeavor and I am proud to be a part of it. I pray for a cure in my lifetime and Hugs for Brady is a mighty warrior in this fight,” she said in a statement posted on the website.

Executive Assistant Michelle Hoffmann has been a volunteer since the foundation’s inception.

“Hugs for Brady holds a very special place in my heart, not only because of my special relationship with Sherrie and Mike, but because it makes me realize that my problems could never compare to the heartache and hardships that oncology families have to endure. Money, success and prestige mean nothing if you don’t have a happy, healthy family to share it with. The least I can do is donate some of my time and effort to families who really need our help,” she said in a statement on the website.

Roy G. Svenson will be honored as the Brady Buggy Wagon Volunteer of the Year. He has distributed 18 wagons in the Illinois area during the past six years.

A native of Chicago, Svenson worked as a retail branch manager and community banker in Chicago for 47 years, as well as at the National Security Bank of Chicago (now U.S. Bank) and the Chicago Community Bank (now Byline Bank), according to the website.

He is currently the vice president and director of the M. R. Bauer Foundation in Chicago; secretary and director of the Kickapoo Mud Creek Nature Conservancy in Oregon, Illinois; and volunteers at the Spring Valley Nature Center in Schaumburg, Illinois, according to the website.

Previously, Svenson was president and board chair of Erie Family Health Center for 18 years, secretary and board member of the Near South Planning Board for nine years, and the president of the South Loop Referral Group for 10 years, all in Chicago, according to the website.

Steven K. Libutti, director of the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, is the Dr. Randy Siegel Pediatric Cancer Medical Humanitarian of the Year. He is also the senior vice president of Oncology Services for RWJBarnabas Health.

In these roles, Libutti oversees the state’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center and the oncology service line of New Jersey’s largest healthcare system, according to the website. Rutgers Cancer Institute and RWJBarnabas Health are dedicated to improving the prevention, detection, treatment and care of patients with cancer through the transformation of laboratory discoveries into clinical practice.

Libutti also serves as vice chancellor for Cancer Programs, Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences.

He is a tenured professor of Surgery at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and an affiliated distinguished professor in Genetics at Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences.

Prior to joining Rutgers Cancer Institute and RWJBarnabas Health, Libutti served as director of the Montefiore Einstein Center for Cancer Care in New York City and was a professor and vice chairman of the Department of Surgery and professor in the Department of Genetics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System, according to the statement.

A surgical oncologist, Libutti is an internationally known expert in endocrine surgery and the management of neuroendocrine tumors. He is a past president of the American Association of Endocrine Surgeons. His clinical practice focuses on gastrointestinal malignancies including cancers of the liver and pancreas, according to the website.

Libutti has published more than 300 peer reviewed journal articles, is Editor-in-Chief of the Nature Journal Cancer Gene Therapy, and holds 11 U.S. patents, according to the website.

Kevin Cummings, chairman and CEO of Investors Bank, is the designated Hugs for Brady Foundation Pediatric Cancer Humanitarian of the Year.

He previously served as president and CEO of both Investors Bancorp and Investors Bank; prior to 2008, he served as the bank’s chief operating officer.

Prior to joining Investors Bank, Cummings had a 26-year career with KPMG LLP, where he became a certified public accountant and partner. He was an audit partner in the Financial Services practice in the New York office and lead partner on a major commercial banking client. He also worked in the New Jersey community bank practice for more than 20 years, according to the website.

Cummings serves on the boards of The Scholarship Fund for Inner-City ChildrenSt. Benedict’s Preparatory SchoolLiberty Science CenterIndependent College Fund of NJThe Federal Home Loan Bank of NYGreater TrentonNew Jersey Business and Industry Association and The Community Foundation of New Jersey. In addition, he is a member of the Development Leadership Council of Morris Habitat for Humanity and has served as the former Chairman of the Board of the NJ Bankers Association, according to the website.

In his spare time, he has coached youth basketball in his local community and has served as the athletic director of St. Theresa’s of Avila.

“I proudly accept the Hugs for Brady Humanitarian Award in honor of all of the children and families who fight these pediatric cancers every day. Hugs for Brady memorializes a battle that began an effort to provide loving support to those in that fight and to eradicate childhood cancers forever. This work needs our financial support and time as volunteers – this is how we can continue to send hugs for Brady,” Cummings said in a statement posted on the website.

For more information on the event, tickets, sponsorship information, to donate or to take part in the silent auction, visit www.hugsforbrady.org.

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