Truly Meeting Champions for Hope

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For the past three years, I have had the honor and privilege to serve on the board of the JT Townsend Foundation. I say it’s an honor and a privilege because of the incredible people I’ve had the opportunity to meet. Not only do they give back, but they inspire me to be a better person.

It all stems from two incredible champions: JT Townsend and Judi Zitiello (Mrs. Z to me.) I didn’t have the honor to meet J.T., but I have met his family and the people he impacted years after his passing. His spirit is alive, it especially gleams through Judi Zitiello.


Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which is basically a death sentence, she has two choices: let the disease kill her or kill the disease. Because I’m writing this blog, I think you know she chose the former. These two champions led EIC to help create the most incredible golf event I’ve ever seen: The Funk-Zitiello Classic. We built the website and helped in the event, but that has nothing to do with how it changed my life or the lives soon to be changed.


We went into event with a goal of about $400,000, which is a pretty lofty goal for a first-year event. Little did most people know was that Mr. Zitiello, Mrs. Z’s husband and the greatest salesman I’ve ever met, was involved. At the end of the weekend, we raised more than $800,000! It was honestly, one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.


The live auction blew me away. We had hoped to raise $60,000 and actually hit more than $150,000. Curtis Dvorak was out of this world in the way he handled the crowd. Then you throw in videos that left the room in tears, as well as speeches from Mr. and Mrs. Zitiello and Fred Funk. It was just an indescribable night to witness. I, of course, was in charge of Audio and Visual. But, there was already an audio and visual guy there so I basically just got front row seats to witness history. That’s just the gala! But wait, there’s more: the golf tournament!


The next morning most people were a bit tired after a long night to wake up early, but there was just something in the air that allowed everyone to power through. They didn’t just persist, but enjoyed playing on one of the greatest golf courses on Earth and ate more food and drink than they ever dreamed.


I was in charge of Hole 18, which was the Bubba Burger hole. My weight loss challenge suffered greatly, but it was worth it. I’ve never been around such a positive and upbeat group of over more than 120 people. It was like J.T.’s spirit was within everyone and they couldn’t help but feel absolute gratitude for life and for what we were doing. Not to mention, Mrs. Z’s incredible smile was making her rounds.


If you haven’t met this woman, you need to! You always hear about someone who can have such a wonderful presence about them and she does. No matter what I’m going through or what she’s going through for that matter, you’ll feel better from being around her. I’ll stop before I get to crying while writing this blog.


The only thing I can say about the golf tournament is this: Everything happens for a reason and J.T.’s presence couldn’t have been more apparent than it was towards the end of the day. We had two or three more foursome groups to come through Hole 18. We were just hanging out and enjoying ourselves, when we hear a loud roar.


Mike Parotta says, “Someone really must’ve gotten on the green.” We were an earshot away from the famous island green on Hole 17. All of a sudden, we see carts start pulling up and they all had giant smiles. We knew something big must’ve happened when Lewis Zitiello, Mrs. Z’s son, yells, “Freddy hit a hole-in-one!”


Let me put this into perspective: Fred Funk, who knew J.T., helped start the foundation and has been best friends with Mr. Z for 20 years. Fred had been playing Hole 17 with each foursome, when Mr. Z’s group comes up and Fred hit a hole-in-one!


My best summary of the event would be this: The world will never be the same and is going to be so positively impacted by these two champions for hope. Dreams will be realized, death sentences will be halted and the world will forever be better because of what the foundation transpires.


This will only get bigger and more lives than we thought possible will be changed. I’m forever grateful we get to participate and contribute in any way we can. It has been and will continue to be a privilege and honor to serve with these amazing people. If you want to help change the world, look no further than these Champions For Hope!