Category Archives: Funk’s Punks, golf, JT

A second shot…

A second shot…

JT Townsend visits the Parks after Brett’s brush with a robber and point blank gun shot to the abdomen.

It has been five years since I took the call from JT. He had just heard a report on the news. A young Navy man and personal trainer was visiting a client in a Jacksonville apartment complex when he heard a scream from behind the fitness complex and ran to see if he could help. He stepped right into the middle of a robbery in progress. The robber shot him point blank range in the abdomen, a near fatal wound. In a split second, this young husband and father’s entire life changed, and JT knew exactly what that was like.

Brett had gone directly into surgery, after the incident. His wife was told the next six hours were critical. He was placed in a medically induced coma for roughly twenty days and when he awoke, he had lost his right kidney, a portion of his colon and the lower part of his leg. He was now able to receive visitors.

We arranged to visit Brett at UF Shands Hospital, ironically, the same hospital, the same floor and the same nurses who had brought JT Townsend back from a near fatal spinal cord injury that left him a quadriplegic eight years before. It was strange JT admitted, he had not been back to this floor since he left after his initial injury. Like Brett, his family was told making it thru the first night was critical. The nurses would later tell us their minds immediately raced back to that October, night 2004 when young JT was brought in. The nurses doubted either man would survive their injuries.

Brett & Susan Parks

But, something miraculous happened. Both men held on surviving death defying trauma with strong faith in God believing He would help them inch back from seemingly impossible physical limitations. And, He did.

JT Townsend went on to start JT Townsend Foundation with a mission to help children and adults with neurological disabilities with adaptive equipment or financial assistance. Brett started A Second Shot Ministries so he could serve up a portion of inspiration. Brett also has written a book Today, Brett travels around the nation, speaking to churches, businesses and schools about that fateful day and how setting goals and never giving up helped him survive. Brett has also written a book titled “Brett Parks: Miracle Man: A Bullet That Ignited a Purpose-Filled Life”. Both of these champions took seemingly impossible situations and turned them into good.

Given these circumstances what would you do if you were given a second shot?

Where does a dream come from?

Where does a dream come from?

When a dream becomes a reality it is a humbling experience. Today I feel as if I am floating on a cloud of gratitude. For a year and a half we have built a pyramid stone by stone beginning with a meeting of minds to discuss an idea. We lured them to our home with a promise of pizzas from the wood burning oven, craft beer on draft and plenty of cabernet to get the conversations going. What resulted was far more than we could have ever imagined.

Tommy had always wanted to throw a golf tournament on the golf course that we have viewed every morning for over twenty four years and one of the most famous in professional golf, the TPC Stadium course at Sawgrass. With each think tank meeting a team was forged. Ideas came from everyone, contacts were contacted and the event began to take form. We set up a meeting with the appropriate TPC staff and received their blessing. We asked our long time friend if he would want to join us once again. He gave a positive response with no hesitation. Our legal expert and a JTTF board member set out to form the Funk-Zitiello Foundation a new non profit, our JTTF marketing team began to work on the creative for the event. A web site was developed and social media began to promulgate. A team of over 80 volunteers was assembled. We were on our way to organizing a first class event at a first class venue.

However, before I go any further there is an element of the process that must be revealed.

Where does a dream begin? How is it born and how does it grow like ripples on the water? This dream came from a place deep within Tommy and I. We believe that God tugged gently at our hearts. We know He is the reason for our team, for our creative and crazy plans and for success beyond our wildest imagination. But, then it became not just our dream, it became the quest for others who heard about it. We believe it was all God’s plan.

When we look back over time we can see His work behind the scenes. Not just the past few years, but for our entire lives. Why did we move to this place we call heaven on earth all those many years ago? Why was it the next home being built belonged to a striving pro golfer? Was all of this by chance? How about that hard working golfer pulling off a win at potentially the fifth major golf tournament on the PGA Tour calendar and it happened just months after a young high school senior suffered a near fatal spinal cord injury on the football field. How did he meet JT Townsend? How did Fred and Sharon Funk and his band of golf fans, the Funk’s Punks join together to rally a community to build that young man a home so his family could live under one roof? How did I survive a cancer that is statistically a death sentence within one year? You just can’t make this stuff up. God was and is always in control. And, His plans are perfect.

It was not an easy task putting this event together. It took a team and it took a lot of work and worry and so many conversations I can’t begin to count them. But, in another way it was simple really. All we had to do was tell our story. Those who have been touched by something so raw and devastating were caught hook, line and sinker, many had been touched by pancreas cancer or had seen the work of JT Townsend and his foundation helping others who found themselves in the same position as he was, disabled and with no hope of getting the things they needed.

When we began we had a budget that I felt was aggressive and maybe unattainable. But, I knew we had to make everyone on our team understand what we wanted to achieve. Just a few weeks before the event we were not even close to our number and I heard discouragement in Tommy’s voice. I assured him, this was not OUR event, the perfect people would be there and the perfect number would be achieved. We just needed to have faith and keep putting one foot in front of another. And we did by achieving not only that lofty budget, but going over it by almost twenty percent.

We were also concerned about holding the event during the rainy season in North Florida. The showers had appeared each day for a month, a nice drenching rain to water the flowers and keep the hot days humid and sustain our natural beauty. But, rain could potentially shut down an outdoor event. Again, I turned to my faith and declared the day would be perfect because this is His event not ours. And, it was a perfect morning with not a cloud in the sky as the JT Townsend Gospel Choir sang praises on the hill overlooking the golfers as they warmed up on the driving range.

The JT Townsend Memorial Gospel Choir

But, there was one more God wink that probably came from our beloved JT at near conclusion of the golf tournament. Fred Funk, who had never hit a hole-in-one on TPC Stadium Course’s most photographed and feared hole #17 did just that. Not only did he do it that day, he did it right when Tommy, his son and his father and his best friend were on the tee, a group of diehard golf fans who as Funk’s Punks had followed Fred for twenty five years of his career. Everyone could hear the cheers throughout the course and knew something wonderful had happened. And it did.

What has been confirmed to me is that when God is involved we just need to listen for his next instruction. We need to place our complete faith in Him and allow each piece to fall into place. He will never disappoint.

What is your dream waiting to come true? Do you possess the faith you need to make it a reality?

The crowd erupts as Fred hits a hole in one

“With God all things are possible” Mark 10:27

Judi Zitiello, Sunshine, Carmen Townsend, Tommy Zitiello, Precious Townsend

The sponsors who made this event possible. Thank you all

Champions for Hope

Champions for Hope

Judi and JT graduation copy

On a warm June day as I stood at the UNF Arena podium before approximately twelve hundred mourners, I felt a strange peace come over me. I had prayed I could get through the eulogy of a man who changed my life and the lives of my family. A man I love dearly. A man who had shown me my purpose.

At that time I felt my purpose was to carry on his legacy of fulfilling the mission of a foundation we built together by helping people who had been in his very situation, broken and afraid. On that day I could never imagine how that defining moment would explode into yet another purpose even more personal than this.

Just ten months later my husband and I sat on the sofa of my new doctors office. I had always been very healthy. Recently what I wrote off as advancing age; knees clicking, meniscus tears, indigestion all started creeping up on me. Years of walking, body sculpting classes, treadmills and ellipticals pounding my medium sized frame were starting to reveal a truth…I was aging. Confident the doctor would concur with our diagnosis, we smiled when she entered the room and asked me to take a seat on the examining table. She was pretty, about thirty something, so accomplished for her age. But her demeanor was serious. She began to explain the results of the sonogram she had ordered the day before as she turned to her computer screen she pointed to something in the middle of my torso. “You have a mass in the head of your pancreas.” she said. Tom jumped from the sofa to sit on the table beside me. “Your blood work and symptoms reveal it could be pancreatic cancer.” A tear trickled down her cheek as she stoically shared her findings leading to this conclusion. My immediate response, “Can you live without your pancreas?” I was unaware of what the pancreas did. Tom held me tightly as she explained, “Yes,you can, but you would live on insulin for the rest of your life.” She had made an appointment with a surgeon at the Mayo Clinic for the next day. We left her office in utter shock.

The rest of the week was filled with MRI’s, more blood work, conversations with our surgical team, visits to church and meetings with immediate family. I was on a fast decline. Just 11 days after my initial appointment I was on the operating table for a 9 and 1/2 hour Whipple surgery by one of the best pancreatic cancer surgeons in the world.

My treatment and recovery took more than one year. To this day I am affected by the resection of my entire digestive system. Chemo and radiation have turned my stomach muscles to mush as well as deterioration of my bones. I recently underwent 2 and 1/2 hour surgery to repair hernias that developed where drains and other incisions had been required.

But, I am here 26 months at this writing cancer free from a lethal cancer that has a less than 8% survival rate of five years. I am a miracle.

To endure a day like October 8th, 2004 for JT, the date of his near fatal spinal cord injury and April 29th, 2014, the date of my diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, is something I would not wish upon anyone.
But, a friend told me one day I would look back on this trial as a blessing. And, that has proven to be true.

That blessing is the revelation of purpose. To move forward with each day that God blesses us with. To take that most difficult situation and turn it into good. To show others that through faith you can conquer anything. Be the example, make others see the hope you glean from a relationship with the only one who truly matters, our savior Jesus Christ.

What was hope for JT? That he would walk again? That he would be able to play football again? That he would hold his wife and baby one day. Only JT knows the true answer to that question. But, he never questioned “why me”. He moved forward each day with a smile and purpose to use his life experience to help others.

What is hope for me? That I will survive this death sentence? That cancer will not steal me from the ones I love too soon? Deep in my soul I promise you I am fine with death. But, I am hopeful that others will see my peace and they will reach deep down too and use each and every day to fight to give others hope.

JT and I have a mutual friend, a friend who we love and loves us both right back. The 2005 Players Champion – pro golfer Fred Funk and his wife and children joined forces with my husband, rock and best friend Tommy Zitiello, to create an event that will be like none other. An event to be held on one of the most prestigious golf courses in the country, The Champions for Hope Golf Classic.

The inaugural Champions for Hope golf classic presented by the Funk-Zitiello Foundation, Inc. (501C3 IRS designation applied for) will be held Friday, June 16th,2017, Father’s Day weekend, a gala, concert and auction at the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse. Golf will commence on Saturday, June 17th on the famed Stadium course. There will be 25 foursomes and a fifth celebrity. The proceeds from this event will be paid to two First Coast causes, The JT Townsend Foundation, Inc. and to fund a grant to research pancreatic cancer.

We intend for this event to grow annually, to give hope to the families of those affected by both of these causes and in years to come other worthy causes.

To find out how you can become a champion for hope send your inquiry to info@championsforhopegolf.com.

God bless everyone, individuals and sponsors who have stepped up to join our team of champions for hope to help benefit these two deserving causes.

Champions for HOpe logo copy

One year Cancer Free

One year Cancer Free
Tommy, Judi and grandbaby No. 6 - Jude Matthew Garrity, our angel sent from God.

Tommy, Judi and grandbaby No. 6 – Jude Matthew Garrity, our angel sent from God.

Today I celebrate being cancer free for 12 months. Free from Pancreatic Cancer that lived in me for at least 15 years silently consuming my bodily cells and my life. If you receive a diagnosis of PC you have a 6 percent chance of living 5 years. To survive 1 year, you are in the 18%. So, on Friday, we celebrated life.

We are thankful to God for each new day. Tom and I both know the day is a gift. We live it as one trying to make the most out of being with our family and friends and we thank God every day for giving us this time together.

I am reading about survivors of PC who live 12 years, beating the odds. I am encouraged by the way I feel one year post Whipple surgery, chemo and radiation treatment. I think I might be one of those blessed to remain, to not be one of the gloomy statistics. And I wonder what God has in store for me. What task has He got for me to accomplish before it is my time. I pray every day for Him to send me a crystal clear message. When He is ready, I know He will. (His timing not ours.)

Living each day as if it were your last makes us all better people. The world would be a better place if we lived this way. Life is so uncertain. We all must realize this no matter if we are healthy or not. Cherish the moments you spend with your loved ones. Tell your friends what their being in your life means to you. Show someone an act of kindness every day.

Last week was The Players Championship week in Ponte Vedra Beach, one of the best weeks for all of us blessed enough to live here. On Friday evening my husband and I hosted a Celebration of Life party fundraiser benefitting the JT Townsend Foundation, which we began 7 years ago. The response to the invitation was tremendous. It means we can take something so horrific and change it into good. We can take the $55K raised at the party and help local disabled children and adults who cannot afford to buy adaptive equipment that would make their lives easier. What a great week it was.

I guess God had this in the plan, this fundraiser/party/celebration of life. It sure came together easily. He had the perfect people attending that He would have. He gave us the perfect weather and the perfect entertainment and food because it is not OUR plan. It is always His. Thank you Lord.

God is in control and whatever He has planned, Tom and I are good with it.

P.S. I had a lot of Thank you’s to make. I think it was the perfect opportunity. My last and biggest thank you always goes to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Thank you Rachel Winer for running  for me in the PVHS Run for Life race to fight Cancer.

Thank you Rachel Winer for running for me in the PVHS Run for Life race to fight Cancer.

The night before he passed…

The night before he passed…

Hi Res Logo

JT Townsend and I were scheduled to speak at the Westside Rotary Meeting at 11AM the next morning of the night he passed away. We spoke about the speech he was giving, the speech he had been working on for several weeks. It was to be his first five minute speech.

I assured him he had practiced the speech plenty of times and I would be there to take over if anything prevented him from proceeding. But I knew he would be able to do it on his own.

Of course, we were not able to attend that meeting and JT never was able to give that speech, but a few months after his passing, I was invited back to the Westside Rotary to speak, and of course, I shared JT’s wonderful words with everyone. There was not a dry eye in the room.

This is what JT had to say:

Hello, my name is JT Townsend.

The night of October 8, 2004 started like any other night for a typical high school football player. I attended Episcopal School of Jacksonville, and we were playing our main rival, Bishop Kenny High School, and were doing well. We had a great pre-game dinner, looked good during warm-ups, and took the field ready to win. Because the schools are only a mile apart, the stands were filled with students and parents. As one of the leaders of our defense, it was my job to rally our younger players and keep them in the game. I was the coach on the field, and although I was not the loudest or most hyper player, I led by example and hard work.

The tackle was just like hundreds of others I had made since I was ten years old: knees bent, head up, arms out. I don’t remember the hit. I heard that I turned blue actually laying there in the grass. For me to turn blue – that had to be a bad sign.

The ambulance took me to Wolfson’s Childrens’ Hospital here in Jacksonville where my neck was stabilized and I was given a halo – a circle of metal drilled into my skull that attached to my shoulders and immobilized my head. My C2 vertebra had been crushed in the accident, and I had no feeling below my neck. I then spent the next 4 months at Shands trauma center with some of the best doctors in the region. The only problem, however, was that the doctors and nurses kept telling me all of these things I would not be able to do – finish school, go to college, have a normal next 10 years. I knew then that I would have my doubters. I knew then I would prove them wrong. I knew then that I would overcome. I knew then that I would turn this setback into an opportunity.

I was fortunate to spend several weeks in rehab at the Shepard Center in Atlanta, a hospital that specializes in spinal cord injuries. Without the resources there I would not have been able to learn about the opportunities available to me such as my pacer that helped me breathe and my chair with the sip and blow straw to move around. Sure – I had my dark days. The days where I cried. The days where I wanted to join my friends and swim in the ocean. The days where I wanted to go shoot hoops in the driveway with my sisters. The days where I asked God why me? The amazing thing is that God answered. He wanted to use me as an instrument of healing and helping. I can do more from this chair than people think.

The community rallied behind me the whole way. Local high schools, especially Episcopal, kept my name front and center and made sure that I was not forgotten. The rest of the year went quickly – I was able to finish high school and enjoy my high school graduation with my family sitting on the front row.

I applied to and was admitted to UNF, where I enrolled in 2005. Obviously I was not the traditional college student! My college career began with a thud – the car would not start on the day I was supposed to begin classes. I had other roadblocks, both real and symbolic, along the way. I had to re-learn how to study. I had to ask others for help. For someone who was shy and quiet, this was tough! At UNF I learned about the power of teamwork, the power of community, and the power of joining together to support a common cause.

That’s when I started having the dream for the Foundation. For several years, though, I had been turning dreams into realities, doing things that others told me I would never do. So many people in our community are worse off than me. I knew I had to start giving back more to support the community that that supported me when I needed it most. In Luke, Chapter 12 Jesus says, “To whom much is given, much is required.” Because I had been given so much, I knew that God would require much of me.

About 3 years ago I started the JT Townsend Foundation, a non-profit group that awards grants to families with children who have severe developmental disabilities. This year, through God’s help, we were able to distribute about $85,000 to 35 different families in Jacksonville. The foundation has a nice buzz going in the city. We are hooked into the Players Championship, the Jags, and other events in town. We look to grow and keep helping others wherever the need arises.

Only with God’s grace can I keep going. Thank you and please look out for those who are less fortunate than you are.

Every day in life we are presented with choices. What we do with those choices determines who we are in life. I can’t change what happened to me but with the right choices I can change the lives of others. We all have a purpose in life and true success comes when we realize our purpose. I think the two most important days in our lives are the day we were born and the day we realize why we were born. I now have a vision and a purpose and with the grace of God I have strength, courage and determination. Thank you and God bless you and all those less fortunate than us.

Graduation Day - from UNF...April 2013

Graduation Day – form UNF…April 2013

the love of giving…..

the love of giving…..

“If I had the gift of faith so that I could speak to a mountain and make it move, without love I would be no good to anybody. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it but if I didn’t love others, I would be no no value whatsoever.” 1 Corinthians 13:2-3

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There was a point in our life when God began to truly bless us abundantly. I believe it came at a time when I gave up a high paying position to stay at home and raise our two youngest children. We had just taken on a huge financial commitment in a new home and really needed my salary. God was leading me to a far more important job, the task of raising two little human beings. I had raised our oldest son on my own and God blessed us that he turned out well. But, I felt differently now about these two younger ones. It worked out perfectly because I trusted God would take care of us. And He did.

We began to share what God had blessed us with. This didn’t always happen consciously. We would happen to fall into circumstances that made us think about helping someone. It really felt good to help others in whatever way we did. Then, we received a gift by our giving. It became contagious. Our entire family became involved and we saw our young grand children joining in. It was a huge transition and we felt really good about it.

Over several years we became involved with a family that needed a lot of help. Even more help than we could provide financially. This made us start thinking about how we could raise money to accomplish what we needed to do. The outpouring of help and support from our friends and our community was amazing. We realized how many generous people we were surrounded by. And, if they didn’t have the money to give, they had other gifts, talents, treasures they could share to help us accomplish what we set out to do.

Over twenty years we saw the generosity of our community first hand. Seldom did anyone refuse to help because our needs were so obvious and so necessary. This generosity extended beyond Ponte Vedra Beach, it included our entire television viewing area.

Recently we have experienced a different side of giving. In late April I was diagnosed with Adenocarcinoma – Pancreatic Cancer. When the Doctor told us she found a tumor in my pancreas everything changed. The most important thing that happened was that we became the recipient of giving. People wanted to help US! Tom and I agreed we would accept whatever was offered. We heard the need in their voices to do something to help. Flowers and cards, special no fat meals, housecleaning, nursing help, offers to drive to appointments or to just sit. It was overwhelming.

What we learned is that giving is the deepest form of love. We had experienced it one side in the past, but now were we seeing it from the receiving side.

God wants us to love our fellow man. He wants us to help those who need help. He shows us HIS love each time we share an act of kindness. We see God’s love in the eyes of those who help us.

When everything around us seems to be terror filled and prejudiced, don’t fall for that untruth. Be the person God wants you to be. Show your love, show His love by giving in any way you are able.

Think how wonderful the world would be if we all did this.

Believe

Believe

When we started the foundation for J.T. we didn’t realize how deeply it would enrich our lives. We hoped it would be a way to fulfill J.T.’s dream of “paying it forward”, giving back to the community that was inspired to help the Townsend family when their lives were turned upside-down that fall Friday in 2004, the night Episcopal HS Football player J.T. Townsend took a near fatal hit on the field. We never realized how clearly God would provide confirmation it was all His plan.

When the inspiration came to me, He must have smiled. This Christmas I realized how long He had been preparing us. It was not by accident we moved from Tampa to Ponte Vedra Beach all those years ago….right next door to Fred Funk, the pro golfer who introduced Tommy and I to J.T. Or that we would form the Funk’s Punks and bring that group of supporters to help J.T.

We prayed for a mission and a vision for this foundation. He gave us the mission of helping children and adults living with disabilities on the First Coast, and to help with funding important spinal cord injury research.

We prayerfully prepared a rough draft of how to structure the foundation. This was the platform upon which we began and upon which we operate today.

And, we prayed God would give us the names of the people He would have in each Board position. It is now clear how He was also preparing the hearts of more than just Tommy and me.

Lynda Masulli, JT and Judi Z

Lynda Masulli, JT and Judi Z


The day of the Christmas Tree Tour at the Masulli’s I realized He had also been at work on Lynda and Rich. It was obvious He had taken their passionate hobby of collecting beautiful artesian Christmas ornaments,decorating their beautiful home with them then turned it into a way to fund the foundation. What might have appeared to some as an extravagant hobby, now is a true sense of giving. And, the Masulli’s want to continue this event annually and look for ways to make the event even more successful. They see God’s hand in this. They too are giving back. And the blessings they receive continue to multiply filling their hearts with thanksgiving and willingness to do more.

Scott and Kelly Winer are another couple who work diligently to help make our foundation a success. Scott is a CPA who has worked on other non-profits as Treasurer. He runs our books. Kelly, has a background in rehabilitation and health care. She uses this knowledge to help on the foundation “Giving” committee. Both have necessary skills to make this foundation run financially sound and to insure the clients receive what they need from a medical standpoint. It is not be accident they found themselves on the same path as we. In fact, I first met Kelly when she styled Lindsay’s wedding with Liza Chung, another Board member whom God strategically placed in front of me. Kelly often visits the homes of our clients and shares with us how the things we provide enrich the lives of all of the family members and of the appreciation they express.

Kelly also brought us a Physical Therapist, Eric Mason. Eric provides valuable insight for our approval process. Eric is able to determine if the equipment they are requesting will be medically beneficial for them and cost effective for us. He encourages his patients and other Physical Therapists who have patients with disabilities to apply with us for items their medical insurance denies.

Liza Chung comes to us with a vast background in event planning and has many local contacts. She is the perfect person to conduct a brainstorming session, using her creativity to determine the best way to put an event together. It is not by chance Liza and I met three years ago planning an event.

Lisa Craig, who joined our board recently has years of experience in the corporate world. As Public Relations Manager for Weight Watchers she knows how to put a story together and pitch it to the media. Those skills were utilized promoting this years Christmas Tree Tour. J.T. and I were on four local television channels promoting the event thanks to her hard work and contact list. I am happy to say, Lisa is also my very dearest friend and has literally walked with me throughout this entire journey. She has a passion for JT and others with disabilities and shares her talents to make their world a better place.

It is not by chance Lizzie Danner, also on our marketing committee, attended school with J.T.. Lizzie runs her own non-profit to raise funding for ALS research. She has an uncle who lives with the debilitating disease. Lizzie works tirelessly keeping our contact list up to date and preparing press releases and print collateral.

Every successful foundation today utilizes social media to get the word out about what we are doing and the events we hold to keep us funded. It is not by chance that Michael Lewis Jr. grew up living near Fred Funk and attended Episcopal with J.T. Michael’s expertise is in the field of social media and works hard to develop and maintain our web site, Facebook pages and Twitter account.

This is just a snapshot of how God given talents of some of our twenty volunteer board members came to us,taken from a secular world and used for His plan.

J.T. and with "Santa" (First Coast Living's Nick Loren) makes smiles appear.

J.T. and with “Santa” (First Coast Living’s Nick Loren) makes smiles appear.

What this foundation has meant to J.T. Townsend is certainly larger than he could have dreamed. He personally delivers every piece of equipment to each client and visits with them leaving them with renewed hope. They see first hand what J.T. has been able to do while living life from a wheelchair. For two years J.T. has delivered toys to very sick children at Nemours Children’s Clinic. These families are strapped with medical expenses making a Christmas gift very much appreciated. J.T. is often asked to share his inspiring story before groups. And, is working diligently to complete his studies at UNF with a degree in Sports Management. He will begin an Internship with The Wounded Warrior Project in January, 2013 the final class required for his graduation. As the President of JTTF he overseas daily operation and strategizes the course for growth of his foundation. This is a dream come true. But, J.T. gives God the glory for all of it. He realizes God’s plan was even bigger than the one he himself had for his life.

Those of us who have seen how one piece of adaptive equipment can make the day a little bit easier for a caregiver and give the patient a little taste of independence in a world where so much is relied on from others, understands the depth of what we are doing. Each client brings with them a compelling story of need, sacrifice and oceans of love. We have become connected with them in a very special way. We feel as if we are all a part of one large community family and it feels so very good for all of us.

We say we are in the “miracle business”. We can take a frown and turn it into a smile.

We truly believe.

Tommy, Judi and our friend – J.T. Townsend

Seven Mile Drive

Seven Mile Drive

Seven Mile Drive...fall in love every time I drive up the hill


The golf cart rambled past wild southern magnolias and fan-like palmetto palms of deep Florida brush as the slightly feminine shirt-and-tied realtor escorted us along the fairway of the golf course pointing to the individual lot numbers painted on the white wooden posts announcing each successive property line.

“You can get a great view of the TPC Clubhouse along this fairway”, he offered as he pointed to his left toward the 70’s style cedar building with its immense roof sloping toward the ground. You could almost see foursomes seated at tables by the large windows enjoying their cool drafts and club sandwiches as they watched the golfers tee it up from the perfectly manicured driving range.

“Now, you would always to be replacing windows when golfers missed the fairway from this point “ commented Tom as we began the process of selecting the perfect lot on which to build our dream home. “Probably best to choose one on the tee box or the green.”

It was 1993 and I had agreed to transfer from Palm Harbor on the West Coast of Florida to Ponte Vedra Beach, a sleepy private beach community. We were considering lots in The Players Club at Sawgrass, just a short bike ride to the golden shores of the Atlantic Ocean.

The move would mean splitting up the family for the first time. We had been married for ten years and our children, Scott, age 23, my son from a previous marriage, adopted by Tom shortly after our marriage, and Louis age 7 and Lindsay, 6 would be splitting up for the first time. Scott had recently married Blake, his high school love and would be staying behind in our condo. The four-hour car ride seemed a perfect distance from the newlyweds. But, it would be a huge change non-the-less.

We first decided on a beautiful lot with a view of the green at the end of the tenth hole on Dye’s Valley Course of the TPC at Sawgrass. As we headed back in the golf cart toward the car that was parked in a vacant lot where the small wood and cedar-shingled turn-stand was located between the first hole and the tenth, the realtor laughed and said, “This first lot is the largest on the street, but it would be terrible to have to deal with all of the cars parking here every year during tournament. We call it the dog lot” (The Players Championship at Sawgrass) Tom asked the price of the lot. It was substantially lower than the lot we were considering. We said our goodbyes and assured him we would give him our decision soon, got back into our car to return to the Marriott where we were staying to discuss our lot selection and dream of our new life in Ponte Vedra Beach.

Back at the hotel we discussed the pros and cons of the lot. The golf course takes a turn to the east just beyond the green of ten where we were considering building. This would enable us to see the activity on the green AND the tee and fairway of hole eleven. That was indeed a plus. Then, my husband, in his wisdom threw out an idea. “The lot next to that vacant lot and the turn stand is almost half the cost. That would mean we could build a larger house.” We had been pre-approved for a mortgage of a specific amount and we were trying to stay within a budget for the project. We spent the evening in happy conversation contemplating our decision and awoke with the plan we both agreed upon.

In the morning we contacted Jerry Zyski owner of Pinnacle Homes, the custom builder Tom and I had selected to build our dream home. We told him what we were intending to do. He told us we would qualify for his builder discount if we contracted with him to build the house. We set up an appointment and were excited we were finally making concrete decisions. Meeting Jerry Zyski would prove to be a key step to unlocking our dreams for a future on the First Coast AND the builder discount reduced the cost of the lot even further. Could this really be happening?

Months before, back in Palm Harbor, when the plan began to unfold for our move to the east coast Tom had enticed me with a promise. After all, I was leaving my dream job in Tampa as the Director of Training for Ford Consumer Finance’s Tampa Division. There were only four divisions in the country, so my responsibilities were great. It would be a huge sacrifice to transfer to Jacksonville and take a lesser position. Tom’s promise was this; If you will leave your dream job, I will build you your dream house.” That certainly got my attention.

We both agreed we did not want a “cookie cutter” typical stucco Florida home. Since we both hail from the north, we tend to lean more toward traditional architecture. We shared our love of the two story clapboard homes in Southern Living Magazine and sent off for “The Hometown Collection”, a set of 20 house plans and renderings. The day the large envelope arrived, Tom immediately browsed the collection. That evening, when I arrived home he asked me to look at the collection and choose my favorite. I spread the 20 pages on the floor and carefully considered the pros and cons of each one. Once I had settled on one, I brought it to him. “That is the one I liked.” he said. We sent off for the blue prints and he got on the phone to search out a custom builder.

Willow Bend by Stephen Fuller

After contacting the realtor, I had a list of five custom builders for the area. Tom got on the phone and we faxed our plans to several of them. After much discussion back and forth we negotiated a price per square foot, we contracted with Jerry Zyski.

Seventeen years ago last April 15th, we moved into our dream house. That day I broke out in hives having to pay our quarterly estimate to the IRS and close on this house. We had absolutely no business building a house like this. And, when I opened my eyes the first morning in my new bedroom I was stunned by the view outside my undraped window. I heard a groundskeeper for the TPC whistling as he rearranged the tee markers and readied the tee box for the day. I turned to Tom and said….”What have we done?”

After seventeen years, I still hear the same groundkeeper whistle every morning. It is quite amazing. And I still get goose bumps when I think of what we did.

God had a plan for us. He is in the house. The changes made in our lives are certain proof that His hand was in this every step of the way and still is to this day. So many blessings have come from our move here. We were able to meet Fred and Sharon Funk and eventually JT Townsend and so many more wonderful friends like Pat and Michele and Lisa and Barry and so many more. I joined Christian Women’s Club and then came the prayer coffees and bible studies right here in this house. Tom and I agree we are where we are supposed to be. We give Him all the glory every day of our lives.

Putt N Crawl 2011

Putt N Crawl 2011

JT Townsend surrounded by family and friends.

This past Saturday, thanks in part to Bonnie Upright of Upright PR and Karen Estella Smith, our Executive Director, the newly formed JT Townsend Foundation was selected as a participating charity in the 7th Annual Putt N Crawl event at Jacksonville Beach. The event is basically a group of beach bars that host a golf hole. Participants purchase a ticket with some of the proceeds going to their favorite charity. They are given a wrist band at check-in, along with a golf score card with a map of the course on the back. They are given a discount on drinks at the participating bars and must mark their score cards to share in the competition “after party” at the designated bar. We were assigned hole number 12 at Bukkets Baha Beach Bar.

The golf holes and the attire of the participants is creative and also a part of the competition with monetary prizes awarded to the best. The web site posted pictures from previous years, and when I realized this was truly a competition, I called on my friend Matt Borocz who just happens to be the National Director of Golf for TPC courses to see if he had a putting green or anything I could borrow. This would be our starting point. We had to come up with something challenging and creative.

That is when this project started growing legs! Karen and I were wracking our brains thinking of how we could design the hole to be fun and creative. Not being handy with hammer and nails or pieces of wood, we were at a large loss for how to even begin. Well, Matt came to the rescue BIG TIME. He visited the web site and saw the holes from years past. It was time to call in the big guns. He called in three guys who volunteer at The Players every year. They are the guys who construct anything that is needed for the Tours own nationally telecast and surely to be designated the fifth “major” tournament. Uncle Buzz, Phil and John were called into a meeting and they were given the challenge. All I had to do was provide the Bud and the materials, they would do the rest.

Uncle Buzz and his team! Phil, John, Ron and Judi Z


The design could be only one thing if any volunteer from The Players was involved. It had to be a replica of the famed 17th hole of the Stadium Course at Sawgrass, surrounded by water, a Sunday pin placement,a sand trap and fish and alligators.

Uncle Buzz’s team really went all out. When Matt told them a competition was involved, they stepped it up even further. We had about a week to complete the task. They spent hours over breakfast at The Beach Hut discussing how they would make it all come together. Then hours in the “barn” at TPC constructing. Even Uncle Ernie and Eli were involved. And come together it did! Uncle Buzz asked me to join the team. My job was decoration. Well of course it was!

Finally, the day arrived. Tom and I met Team Buzz at Beach Hut at 7:30AM for breakfast. We made our plans and set off in different directions, but the goal was to have the hole completed by 12:00 noon. We accomplished our goal with time to spare and the GM at Bukkets, Ken, was extremely accommodating and pleased that he was the lucky guy to host JTTF.

Last years attendance for the Putt N Crawl was around 4000 people. The Buzz was promoting the event and they expected this years attendance to reach as high as 6500 crawlers! Karen had sent out several requests for volunteers to assist the day of and I had set up an event on Facebook so we could have all of our friends attend and hopefully invite even more supporters for JT’s new foundation. Social media is such an amazingly great tool to get word out immediately and a firm yes no or maybe from all invitees. Word was spreading fast and it looked like we were going to have a successful turnout.

That is one crazy golf outfit complete with a Budwiser beer box hat!

It truly was not about how much money we would earn that day. It was more about getting the foundation out there in front of the people. Media began to arrive around 2PM when volunteers were in place and JT and his family had arrived. This was exactly what we had prayed for. And then it began……

Crawlers began to arrive and their comments were very positive about our hole. The costumes were really fun and you could tell the ones who were in it to win it. One group with matching tee shirts and every one dressed in kilts visited our hole early.

One beautiful girl in their party was in a motorized wheel chair and had a Happy Birthday Banner draped around her. As I explained about the JTTF she listened intently. She wanted to hear more and I told her to speak to our President, JT Townsend. The group putted through and she pulled her chair right up next to JT and they talked for a long while. Then a miracle happened. God surly sent those kilted crawlers to our hole. The beautiful lady in the wheelchair told me she wanted to donate a motorized wheelchair she had no use for to the foundation so we could find someone who could not afford one. This lady had been an anesthesiologist at Flagler Hospital and four years ago was diagnosed with MS. She loved the mission of the foundation and wanted to join us in this way. I felt as if we had accomplished far more than we had ever dreamed the day would bring.
Seriously, God listens to our prayers. He knows the desires of our hearts and often times He answers us in bigger ways then we could ever imagine. God answered our prayers for a successful event. Beyond the donation of the wheelchair or the money we took in , or anything else, every person who was involved will be forever changed because they were a part of a wonderful experience. Good caring generous people like Stacey at Home Depot who made it possible for us to borrow the plants we set around the hole. And Lisa, Liza, Kelly and Scott, my dear friends who helped us all day long. My family, Tom, Lindsay, Louis, Stephanie and John all rallied around JT that day. Oh, and of course Matt and Team Buzz.

Best of all we did win the hole competition for the 7th Annual Putt N Crawl and a $300 check to the Foundation. Thank you everyone who came out and supported us last Saturday! You are the BEST!

The Players – 2011

The Players – 2011

Club trailers are arriving today in the lot next to our house.

As soon as the weather promises no more frost the grounds crew at the TPC at Sawgrass gets to work. They have been mulching, planting, fertilizing, pruning in preparation for the biggest annual event of Northeast Florida to unfold and the players and crowds will begin to arrive this weekend.

If you are familiar with my blog, you will know the reason we moved to this very spot in 1993 was The Players Championship. Some neighbors actually avoid being here for tournament week. They are annoyed by the traffic and the crowded restaurants and shops. They take vacations and leave the area! We often wonder why they moved here in the first place.

This is the beginning of a great week in Ponte Vedra Beach……I wouldn’t leave for anything!