By Mik Hyldebrandt
In the ongoing fight against blood cancers, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) has raised funds for a cure with their annual Man & Woman of the Year Campaign. Celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the fundraising initiative, LLS has gathered the 10riginals – the all-star candidates who have won through the decade – to meet the most ambitious fundraising goal yet. Peach talked to Heath Ponder, a 10riginals candidate and the first Atlanta Man of the Year, to discuss mission, inspiration, and goals.
– How did you get involved with LLS?
My father was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma when I was a freshman in college. After seeing first-hand the difficult protocol he endured and the amazing work the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society does which directly impacts blood cancer research and patient families, I began volunteering with the Georgia Chapter 17 years ago.
– What aspect of your involvement in LLS is most important to you?
Over the years, I have volunteered for LLS through the Light the Night Walk as an Executive Council Member, the Man & Woman of the Year Campaign since inception, and in the last four years, have served as a member of the Board of Trustees for the Georgia Chapter. I must say, the Man and Woman of the Year campaign has been the most rewarding experience due to our being able to raise as much money as possible in ten weeks through friends, family, and events. 77% of the proceeds go directly to research and finding a cure for blood cancer. This is unique!
– You have been Man of the Year before – what inspired you to take a second nomination?
Correct. I was honored to be named the first Atlanta Man of the Year after my team and I raised $25,000 in ten weeks. That first year, we only dreamed of what Man and Woman of the Year would become. It has grown each year exponentially. Our Team 1Originals has now had 3 Men of the year; myself, Scott Thomas, who raised over $100,000 and Brian Fuller, who raised over $130,000, and a Runner Up, Stephen Beckwith, who raised over $90,000. Additionally, I served as Chair in 2015 alongside Scott Thomas as my Co-Chair when we hit the $1,000,000 mark and last year’s campaign raised a whopping $1,300,000!
Since this is the 10-year anniversary, they nominated me as the Atlanta All-Star Candidate to compete against other All-Star candidates throughout the country for National Man of the Year. We pulled Team 10riginals back together again to raise as much money as possible for this amazing organization and to FIND A CURE for BLOOD CANCERS! Our team this year consists of the most hardworking friends who amaze me at their level of support; my husband, Jim Lesti, Holly Firfer Arnold, Jeff Paramore, Scott Thomas, Kevin Brown, Wells Curlee, Boo Green, Ty Stapleton, and Travis Darnell.
– How has your involvement with LLS developed you as a person?
Over the last 17 years, LLS has proven to me what giving back is all about. I am so thankful I found this amazing organization to which I dedicate my time. The staff members of LLS are some of the most dedicated individuals I have ever known and are truly passionate about finding a cure and believing that #somedayistoday.
– What is your fundraising goal?
Team 10riginals has a goal this year of $125,000 in ten weeks, and the campaign ends with the Finale Gala at the Intercontinental Hotel Buckhead on June 9. We have 22 men and women candidates this year, and our overall goal for the campaign is $1,500,000. I have no doubt we will knock this number out of the park!
– How can people help and get involved?
If you would like to donate to help us find a cure for Leukemia and Lymphoma and blood cancers, please visit http://bit.ly/MWOYHPonder . We have until noon on June 9th to receive donations before the campaign ends. Thank you for your support!