Family Collage

Family Collage
Lots of Love in this Bunch!
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Friday, September 26, 2014

Creating Hope: Patient Advocates Determined to Make a Difference for Stem Cell Research in Alabama!

Supporters from Coast-to-Coast traveling the extra mile to attend this year's Creating Hope Gala. From left: Jayne Woolf of Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. publishers; Birmingham native & American Idol winner, Taylor Hicks; Patient Advocate & CIRM Spokesperson, Katie Sharify; and Peter Wilderotter, CEO & President of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. 
On September 18th, the Alabama Institute of Medicine's “Creating Hope” Gala at Birmingham's Workplay venue was indeed a hopeful and inspiring affair. Established in 2013, AIM is the primary resource in our state for funding stem cell research, so regardless cuts with state and federal funding, patients living with disease and/or disability have a reason to hold onto hope that researchers will be able to develop better treatments and possibly cures for these debilitating ailments. The 175-guest fundraiser netted an impressive $20,000, with a gigantic boost from Platinum Sponsor Vivo Biosciences, Inc. 

Before I tell you about the wonderfully entertaining gala, I want to say how moved we all were with our moderator, Peter Wilderotter, who serves as the President/CEO of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation (CDERF)

Our friend and ally for research cures, Peter Wilderotter

A driving force of the nonprofit organization for nearly 10 years, Peter has been instrumental in the growth of the CDRF, from donors and volunteers to its amazing staff. Peter told me that this year alone, "The CDRF has celebrated groundbreaking research with epidural stimulation; surpassed $17 million in Quality of Life grants; the Reeve Foundation Information Specialists hit 60,000 inquiries; and we announced Team LeGrand, an exciting partnership that will serve as a fundraising arm of our Reeve Foundation." This is incredible and reiterates the concept that an organization's success comes from building a strong team of staff, volunteers, and advocates who share in the mission and goals of the program. 
Now, about AIM's Creating Hope Gala. Guests were greeted during cocktail hour by a warm reception from advocates who traveled across the U.S., including Katie Sharify (5th patient enrolled in Geron's stem cell clinical trials), and Jayne Woolf (Corporate New Development at Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. publishers). 

Guests also recognized a “framed” copy of our newly launched INEVITABLE COLLISION story published by the amazing Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. which was displayed so beautifully near the Ballroom entrance. AIM literature circulated around the Canteen Lounge, as well as information highlighting 100% of INEVITABLE COLLISION proceeds is pledged to fund FDA-compliant stem cell research. Yes, friends. You read this correctly, as my commitment to AIM and this publication is because I am passionate about making a real difference for medical research. It is my goal, along with the entire AIM team, to raise as much money as possible to fund life-saving research. With my sister Tera's recent diagnosis with breast cancer (now, her 3rd battle with this terrible disease), my own diagnosis of Polycystic Kidney Disease, and being a Mom/Step-Mom to seven precious children, I am more passionate than ever to advance regenerative medicine therapy and help fund these cures that can save our lives! 

To read more about my pledge, please click here.  

Enjoyed great conversation with Taylor before his amazing performance! 
In a brief interview with Taylor before he took the stage, he said, "Your story represents 'hope' and explains the sacrifices you and many others have made to accomplish an amazing goal. It's a journey that is truly inspirational!" He continued, "The gala’s ‘Creating Hope’ theme is perfect for this year's main fundraising event for AIM, and we are very lucky to have a program like AIM in our state to fund this important research."  

When I asked Taylor about his position for the growing biotech industry in the deep south, he answered, "It is important to remain competitive in the biotech industry, and to do this, advancement and funding has to be on the forefront of our minds to create a better and healthier society. Overall, I am excited about your [AIM's] funding for all disease and disabilities. It seems that Alabama is making great progress in the research field, and you guys are pivotal to making this happen." 

It was great fun watching guests enjoy the photo opportunity inside the Canteen Lounge where Taylor gave his undivided attention to AIM supporters.

The Gala design was spectacular, thanks to Susan Collum, who draped the ballroom walls in ivory silk and round tables covered in matching ivory linens. And we were thrilled that 200 books made it safely in time the day before our event, so each guest could take home a copy of INEVITABLE COLLISION

Together with cranberry and golden floral centerpieces, all arranged by the amazing Monte at Mountain Brook Florist, it was a spectacular statement of elegance mixed with nature's astonishing beauty. 

At the microphone - Member of AIM Board of Directors, Darlene Brandenburg, Patient Advocate, Established Transverse Myelitis Awareness Day in AL, CEO of Darlene’s Boutique located in Oneonta, AL. Background - AIM Board of Director Jason Cosgrove, Patient Advocate, Senior Geospatial Analyst at Geographic Information Services, Inc. Jason and his wife live in Chelsea, Alabama with their six-year-old twins.
Following an impressive summary of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, Peter welcomed everyone and introduced attending AIM Board of Directors, Jason Cosgrove, Darlene Brandenburg, and recognized absent Members Roman Reed and Melissa King. 

I had the opportunity to share with our guests the inspiration behind the establishment of AIM and the publication of INEVITABLE COLLISION, which is a combined journey of how disease has affected my personal family and the efforts behind the entire AIM team to advance regenerative medicine therapies in our state. 
Jayne Woolf, my great friend and partner for cures
Representing our publishing team, Jayne Woolf, who has been an ally and great friend during the entire process (three years) to bring INEVITABLE COLLISION to print, was honored as a distinguished guest and a true partner in this quest for research cures. “I’m impressed with the progress being made in Alabama” Jayne said, who was given a round of applause when she acknowledged not only the many accomplishments of the AIM Team, but also of our home-state's Football Championship team, the Alabama Crimson Tide. 

Presenting the 2014 Creating Hope Award to Peter Wilderotter
Katie Sharify, AIM's 2014 Creating Hope Award Recipient

Through the generous $1 Million donation made by Chris Drummond, AIM awarded three significant grants to UAB researchers for furthering their studies of stem cell research in Alabama.  This young man is a hero to us all, and the AIM Team salutes Chris for his faith in our program and for supporting our vision of advancing stem cell research in Alabama. 
Lastly, our Creating Hope award recipients, Peter Wildrotter, Katie Sharify, and Chris Drummond were honored as AIM Partners for their generous time, effort, and support demonstrated during the establishment and year of operation for our program. Having recently donated $1 Million toward the AIM research grant fund, Chris Drummond said, “I couldn't think of a better way to invest than to contribute to an organization that has the vision for bringing tangible research and stem cell awareness to our state. It's been an honor to work with the AIM team, and I look forward to seeing this incredible organization's future accomplishments!”

In closing of our Gala event, music artist and sensation Taylor Hicks worked his magic with both guitar and harmonica in hand, singing his signature blend of blues and country, with Elton John’s “Levon” and Ray Charles’ “Hallelujah, I Just Love Her So” part of the mix. All in all, the gala was a more than hopeful tribute to the work the Alabama Institute of Medicine (AIM) is doing in the arena of treatment and a cure for disease and disability that touches all of us. 

Thank you for your support and encouragement! I assure you, both keep me and the entire AIM team going day-to-day. :)  Take care and best wishes for a blessed weekend!  Much love ~ Tory

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