LLS gears up for spring fundraising campaign

For Craig Beckinger, founder and chief executive officer of ABC Event Planning, becoming a 2023 Visionary of the Year candidate for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s annual fundraising campaign is more than just working for a good cause. It’s a way to impact the lives of everyone around you, every day. 

As a Visionary candidate for the North Florida region of LLS, Beckinger, and other individuals from the local business community, join forces across the nation to support LLS by organizing a 10-week, local fundraising campaign from February to May, each year, culminating in a spring gala. A high school version runs alongside the Visionary campaign, with a total of 13 teams across the Tampa Bay area. 

Formerly called “Man and Woman of the Year,” the Visionary campaign raises both awareness and funds to support the LLS mission. 

LLS is a national organization, founded in 1949 by Rudolph and Antoinette de Villiers, who lost their teenage son to leukemia and saw a lack of advancement in research and treatment after their son’s death. LLS has grown to be a leading force toward finding a cure for all cancers and is recognized for its three pillars of support including research, policy/advocacy and patient support. 

“What LLS does for individuals with cancer, and their families, especially for the kids, is amazing,” says Beckinger. “If you’re going to invest money, or contribute to an organization, give it to someone out there who is fighting for a cause that affects everybody. Cancer does not discriminate — black, white, young, old, male, female, gay, straight — it doesn’t matter. Cancer touches everyone and everyone in this world knows somebody who has been affected by cancer.”

Beckinger speaks from personal experience. Diagnosed with stage four colon cancer, in 2017, he was given only three to four months to live. Under the care of doctors at Moffitt Cancer Center, in Tampa, Beckinger followed a “backpack of chemo” over seven days, repeating the process until March of 2018. He’s been cancer-free for over five years. 

He first became involved with LLS, in 2021 when supporting Sharon Conklin, friend and senior marketing consultant at Beasley Media Group, in her own fundraising campaign at LLS. With his background as a survivor, Beckinger was asked to lead a team the following year. His team raised over $145,000 for LLS, during the 2023 campaign. This year, Beckinger heads up the North Florida Regional leadership team. 

“We are actively looking for 2024 candidates to be Visionaries of the Year,” he says, “and we’re also looking for leadership team members who will help coach, and mentor, those candidates so that they can be successful in their campaigns.”

Supporting LLS is a win in the quest for a cure for all types of cancer, as Miranda Botteron, regional business development director of LLS North Florida, explains, “LLS really exists to eradicate the world of cancer. We truly believe that it is going to start with blood cancer research on leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma. Our research impacts the treatment of multiple other cancers and diseases. It’s simply because blood is easier to access, and study, so it’s easier to research.” 

And, as Botteron points out, many of the research dollars that LLS has raised in the past decade is being used right here in Florida. 

“We have a research project with Moffitt Cancer Center and a research project with the University of Florida,” she says. “Since 1999, we’ve invested nearly $11 million in research, just in the North Florida region alone.”

With 27 regions throughout North America and Puerto Rico, LLS depends on the strength of its local regional networks to power the whole. Botteron’s role is an exciting part of that network, striving locally to make a far-reaching impact across the states and beyond.

“I steward corporate business amongst our campaigns and all the mission programs that we offer,” Botteron says. “I essentially help build proposals for corporations to support the incredible work that we’re doing globally.” 

Botteron, like all of us, has herself been touched by cancer. Her uncle passed away when she was in high school. But LLS had been a part of her life even earlier, as she volunteered in her local chapters since grade school. She joined LLS as an intern, fresh out of university, and has stayed with the organization ever since, in various roles.

One of her favorite events is their annual Light the Night evening walk, where 1 million people, at more than 140 locations across the U.S. and Canada, walk to end cancer. Held each November, Tampa’s Light the Night event was on November 17, at Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, in Tampa. Next year’s event will be co-chaired by Tampa Bay Business and Wealth’s own Bridgette Bello and Laura Sherman, founding partner of BKS Partners. 

Besides research dollars toward a cure, LLS also supports patients, and their families, through funding, information, education and advocacy. 

“The most local and intimate thing that we do is to give back directly to our patients,” says Botteron. “We have financial resources. We have support groups, we have education programs and we have an incredible Information Resource Center. We also have a clinical trial support system that helps patients navigate if, and where, any clinical trials are happening throughout the entire world on their cancer.” 

Botteron admits it’s a team effort, crediting the efforts of everyone from volunteers like Beckinger to the North Florida Region’s board members, like Bello, who also give their time, and talents, to keeping LLS thriving within the larger community. As part of this team effort, another popular way to get involved, in Florida, is with LLS’s Team in Training initiative. LLS’s Team in Training recognizes that we are all part of the team fighting cancer and gives small groups of athletes a purpose behind their training and competitions. As Botteron explains,  “We’re advocating that all patients, no matter any circumstance, get the care that they need. Ensuring that, through our resources and through our voice, we can reach as many patients as possible. We provided nearly $22 million in copay assistance to help alleviate the cost of cancer cure treatment. So, that is money that went directly into the pockets of patients.”

Patients and families, medical teams and research scientists, friends and the community: we’re all in the fight against cancer together. 

“It’s hard enough if an adult is told they have cancer,” says Beckinger, “but for children, and their loved ones, it’s unimaginable….LLS will make sure the kids and their families get where they need to be. They’re just an incredible resource for caregivers and children.” ♦

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