Tag Archives: Fred Funk

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



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

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!

Ours is a “Funky” world

Ours is a “Funky” world

Caddy Mark Long and Fred have been together for nearly ten years.

If I could have written this on Saturday night I undoubtedly would have more vivid memories of the day.  But, I will try to recapture the excitement we felt walking toward the 16th green of the Stadium Course at The Players during the third round. That day Fred bounced back to shoot an unbelievable score fresh off the recovery of knee replacement surgery. Or, as caddy Mark Long described it, “He’s come out of hibernation just in time.”

This 53 year old former University of Maryland golf coach-turned-pro is one of the most beloved golfers on tour.  His ability to remain a regular guy despite his 19 professional wins including the 2005 Players Championship is proof of his humility and strong faith. He is just a good guy who works hard. No other way to describe him.

The gallery was building as our long time friend approached the epicenter of the famous Stadium Course where holes 16, and 17 can be viewed simultaneously. The fans relaxed in the grass, or if fortunate enough to score a ticket to one of the air conditioned chalets, munched on sumptuous snacks and a Sawgrass Splash or an ice cold brew while waiting for the next group to come thru. The giant TV screens announced the golfer on each tee box and provided currents stats. It is the perfect place to watch The “almost major” Players unfold.

No.16 hole is a 523 yard par-5 that sits across the water from the famous island 17th green. Tom and I and many others Funk’s Punks in bright orange shirts escorted Fred as he walked the 16th fairway. You could hear the fans whispers, “Here comes Funk and his Punks”. The fans cheered as he eagled 16 taking back the 2 shots from bogeys on Nos. 14 and 15.  However, lurking ahead was 17!

Undoubtedly the most famous hole in golf, the island green 17 is extremely intimidating with it’s ribbon of walkway to the green surrounded by water. Dreams have been shattered by pin placement near the front of the green on a bottom shelf. Fred managed a two-putt-par and it was now on to 18 with it’s entire left fairway hugging the water.

If you can hold it all together to 18 you must maintain your cool as this hole will test your skill and a stiff  north westerly wind hitting you in the face will cause your knees to shake. The green is surrounded by a sandy bunker on the left and deep pots of grass bunkers on the front that can devour your chances of par in one bad bounce. Fred was fortunate to hit the green with his second shot as the ball raced 22 feet past the hole. But, he sunk the putt which had a left-to-right break for a birdie and a stupendous 6-under-par third round score. We high-fived one another as the goose bumps rose on my sun burned arms. “I love to watch that man!” I shouted. We all watched him climb up the leader board that day as high as 6th place, with 5 birdies and an eagle, a whopping 52 spots ahead of the tie for 58th he posted at the end of the second round.

Sunday round four was a comfortable weather day.  Low humidity and temps in the high 70’s, ocean breezes and sunshine.  But the course held no favor as the scores began to drop from the strong wind.  Fred felt the pressure and did not have his best day. He finished with a 78 tied for 39th place.  But, he stayed the course, as they say.  He finished his round.  He did not retreat.

It is said that the game of golf is a game of inches played mainly in the inches between our ears. Tiger could take a lesson from Fred. He inspires so many to work hard and to keep going. He has transformed his physical body by working out more. He has has reaped the benefit with longer drives and greater stamina. Here is a 53 year old man with a new knee who plays both PGA and Champions Tours and might I say…..very well.  I am proud of Fred Funk for being a strong man who loves his family and is blessed with a God given gift that not only provides he, and others he helps, with a great life….it entertains and inspires others. Keep on going Fred. As one fan yelled out as we approacehed 16 green ….”You still got it”.