Tag Archives: JT Townsend

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

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

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!

Partying for a cause.

Partying for a cause.

Let’s party

PGA Tour Pro - Fred Funk and our friend JT Townsend


In twenty-seven years of marriage Tom and I have thrown a lot of parties. All types of parties.  From intimate parties, and  open houses to 250 person events with bands and bartenders.  In fact, we recently renovated our home to accommodate larger parties. We personally own party necessities:  tables, chairs, chafing dishes, two-150 cup coffee urns.  I have a bin that contains a roll of raffle tickets, wrist bands, orange colored plastic by the roll, industrial stapler, clip boards, money boxes, yellow CAUTION tape and a flash light. We come from a family of partiers. My Sister-in-Law Cathy has a “Box-o-Fun” that contains a cow bell, castanets, tambourine, maracas and finger cymbals. We have the party thing down.

We usually do not have any trouble finding people to attend our parties.  Some of the parties are annual events that our friends and family look forward to.  They have even become tradition.  If you attend our annual Christmas Eve Open House you will undoubtedly find yourself in a photo taken from the balcony of all who are still standing at around 11PM. That is about an hour after the karaoke machine has cranked out “She’s a Brick House”.  We have a contact list on our computer named  “Party Regulars.  I can quickly compose an e-vite and one simple touch of the enter key equals instant party.

Some of our other annual parties like TPC were so well attended, we had to stop throwing them for a year or two.  In 1993 as we were building our house Pro Golfer Fred Funk was also building his house two lots down.  We became fast friends.  When the TPC Players Championship rolled around in March of the next year we thought it would be fun to form a fan club of neighbors to follow Freddie.  Fred and Sharon, Tom and I sat around our pool one day and came up with the name “Funk’s Punks”.  We thought it would be cool to wear brightly colored shirts supporting Fred on the Stadium course.   The next year the first tent went up.  The third year  local TV sports show was broadcast from our back yard.  We changed our golf shirts to neon tangelo and had a logo designed.  In print we were compared to “Arnie’s Army”. Digitally printed larger than life-sized banners of Fred Funk and his Punk’s were strung from the trees and tents. Attendees pitched in a nominal amount to cover the cost of food, drink and entertainment. We had crashers every year.  It became so large, we lost control. After Fred won The Players in 2005 we decided to move our party to a larger venue and use his celebrity to raise money for JT and other causes.

The entertainment has also evolved over the years. It started out as a dance party with outdoor speakers blaring, featuring neighborhood children.  Most were around ten or eleven.  They would shake, boogie and macarena from the back of the pool deck as the parents prayed they would not slip into the pool. Not so much for getting wet or drowning, more about having their tiny egos bruised. Next we hired a DJ, then a pop/country singer Rick Steele, then a five person stage group “Diggin in Dreamland”..and most recently  “Pro Bono”.  We cannot leave out our friend Mike Parrotta when speaking of entertainment. Mike could best be described as a wedding-singer. He gets the party going.  He has taken the arm dance to new levels.  I believe you can find his pod-cast on ITunes AND U-Tube.  Just search “Sweet Caroline  ba ba ba…..”.

For the past four years we have turned our party FUN into FUND raising.  When Fred Funk introduced us to JT Townsend, Tommy and I were moved. JT’s needs were significant due to a near fatal spinal cord injury he suffered on the football field his senior year (2004) at Episcopal High School. We know our friends have hearts as big as OHIO and would certainly help us.  So, we reinvented our party. This time we opened it to the public, sold tickets and added an auction.  The annual Funk’s Punks for JT party has helped us to provide a new wheel chair and bed for JT and cash donations to Wound Warrior Project.  We have raised over $200,000 in just five years. JT and his family are now part of OUR family.  All of us and the sponsors who donate food, time and much more, receive just as much as they give in blessings just by being involved.

Tonight we are throwing a party for 250 at the local sports bar for Wounded Warrior Project. Several warriors will be on hand to place wrist bands on the party-goers as they enter the door for a private event.  We have an auction company that will provide amazing sports memorabilia. This could raise some serious cash for the cause.  These young men and women have given more than anyone can imagine for OUR freedom. Now they need our help.

Pro Bono will provide entertainment.  This band of businessmen play for only four or five events a year for local charities. They charge nothing for their gig…thus the name. This eclectic band has developed  a huge following.  They are amazingly talented and hard working, playing non-stop for up to five hours per evening.  Oh and they will probably be joined by our friend Mike Parraotta who will get us on our feet.  Talk about having huge hearts!

Most people holding an event of this size would be a bit rattled the morning of.  But, here I sit, blogging while I have my coffee.  As I said, we have this party thing down.