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Man, Woman of the Year in Montgomery County to be named at Leukemia and Lymphoma society gala

May 9, 2019

Soon, two individuals will hold the title of Man and Woman of the Year in Montgomery County; and they’ll be honored at an event that’s described as not just a lighthearted popularity contest, but also a way to raise money for a great cause.

The event, put on by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, is a 10-week fundraising philanthropic competition. Although the competition goes on each year in more than 80 cities across the country, this is the second year the campaign has been hosted in Montgomery County.

In total, there are nine candidates who’ve joined the race for the title of Man and Woman of the Year with the goal of raising the most money possible for the society, which is the world’s largest voluntary health agency dedicated to curing blood cancers. Not only does the society fund research, they also provide information and support services for patients and their families.

Every dollar the candidates and their team members raise counts as one vote. The candidate who has raised the most money at the end of the campaign is crowned as the Man or Woman of the Year.

Mindy Reynolds, The Woodlands campaign manager from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, said this is an inspiring season for all involved.

“Some of our candidates have their own personal connection to blood cancer, but some of the people do this from the goodness of their heart. The candidates range from stay-at-home moms to entrepreneurs and executives,” Reynolds said.

The group raises funds up until the last minute at their grand finale celebration gala planned for May 17 at The Woodlands Resort. Then, once the donations are all tallied, the candidates are brought up on stage and the winners are announced.

Last year, in its inaugural year, the campaign in Montgomery County raised $480,000. Reynolds said the campaign is growing here, though, and the number they’ll get to announce as the grand total raised is “going to make people fall out of their chairs”.

The male candidates include three men: Jeff Bither, running in honor of his best friend who lost his battle with cancer and a friend’s child who was diagnosed with cancer; Parker Kink, running in memory of his grandfather who lost his battle with leukemia; and Will Warren, running in honor of family members who have battled cancer.

The female candidates include: Annabelle Carillo, running in honor of family members who have suffered from cancer; Leslie Coxon, running in honor of two friends who are survivors; Elizabeth Greever, running to support research and find a cure; Michelle Little, running to honor a family friend who was recently diagnosed with stage 4 Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma; Sarah Paul, running in her father’s memory; and Adria Salas, also running in memory of her father.

Chairing the event is Kalli Gonzalez, a branch manager and sales executive at Fidelity National Title in The Woodlands, and Stacey Robertson, a Realtor and certified public accountant affiliated with Blake Wilcox Properties and Zions Bancorporation.

In addition to the adult candidates, a Boy and Girl of the Year have been delegated for the county’s competition. The kids aren’t focused on raising money, though, they’re beacons of hope as survivors of blood cancer.

The Girl of the Year is Kayla Yearwood, who was diagnosed with leukemia in 2012. The endured two and a half years of treatment and at nine years old is now approaching her five-year mark post-treatment. Her mother, Cassandra, said that before Kayla was diagnosed, she hadn’t paid much attention to the impacts of cancer.

“When we were thrust into it, though, that’s where the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society came in,” Cassandra said. Since, the family has gotten involved to be an encouragement to others and let people know how the money raised really does help others.

The Boy of the Year is Crew Crones. He was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when he was two and a half years old but is now out of treatment; his mom, Erin, who earned the title of last year’s Woman of the Year, describes him as a spunky six-year-old.

“He’s had a lot going on this past year, but he’s also been through a lot of victories. He’s a great face to show everybody else that cancer doesn’t define you,” Erin said.

jane.stueckemann@chron.com