The news was announced at the chamber’s meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 1. Ms. Vermeulen is the CEO and founder of Ashley Lauren Foundation, an independent 501[c] nonprofit organization that supports local families with children diagnosed with cancer.
“I was totally humbled by the news,” Ms. Vermeulen told The Coast Star, about finding out about the recognition when Greater Spring Lake Chamber of Commerce President George D’Amico called her less than a week before the meeting.
“I think she is a wonderful choice, she is a wonderful human being — a very giving person,” Mr. D’Amico said. “She’s always in the background, always doing for others.”
Ms. Vermeulen’s own daughter, Ashley Lauren, was diagnosed with a Wilms Tumor, a type of kidney cancer, at 3-years-old in 1991. Ashley dealt with chemotherapy and its consequences for many years, but now lives her life without the disease in Belmar. She is currently 29-years-old and works as a fitness and dance instructor.
After enduring the travails that come with battling pediatric cancer, Ms. Vermeulen was inspired to set up an organization that helps other families dealing with the same difficulties day in and day out.
“We experienced a tremendous amount of hardships, first and foremost just watching your child suffer through all of the pitfalls of the disease, all the effects from the chemotherapy and radiation treatments, the emotional stress, the financial stress. Knowing what we went through and realizing how all-encompassing it was on all levels, I realized that the need for support was so vital,” Ms. Vermeulen said.
The Ashley Lauren Foundation, incorporated since 2005, uses the funds raised to offer financial and emotional aid to the families battling pediatric cancer, as well as to provide uplifting programs to the ailing children. The programs the foundation offers to the children range from parties, outings, a birthday program and a “Making Dreams Come True” program.
The foundation learns about the families with pediatric cancer through referrals from all of the hospitals in New Jersey that deal with pediatric cancer as well as Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
“As long as the child lives in New Jersey, we will assist, we cover the whole state,” Ms. Vermeulen explained, noting that the foundation’s hallmark is financial assistance. The foundation covers anything from household bills to travel expenses from journeying back and forth to the hospital.
Ms. Vermeulen recognizes the financial aid needed for these costs because the diagnosis of pediatric cancer usually means one parent has to stop working in order to care for their child.
The Ashley Lauren Foundation predominantly raises funds through fundraisers and private donations. Its largest fundraiser, the Butterfly Ball, is set for Feb. 25 at Ocean Place Resort and Spa in Long Branch where guests will be entertained with dinner, dancing, auctions and live music by Brian Kirk and the Jirks. For tickets to the Butterfly Ball, call 732-414-1625 or visit ashleylaurenfoundation.org
Prior to establishing the foundation in 2005, Ms. Vermeulen received a bachelor of arts degree in nonprofit management with a focus on pediatric cancer from Stockton University so that she could be wholly knowledgeable on how to run a nonprofit. After running the Ashley Lauren Foundation in Colts Neck for about nine years, Ms. Vermeulen moved the foundation to Morris Avenue in Spring Lake two years ago.
Spring Lake's 2016 Citizen of the Year!
above: Monica Vermeulen
CITIZEN OF THE YEAR
This is the 12th year the Greater Spring Lake Chamber of Commerce has named a Citizen of the Year.
The Greater Spring Lake Chamber of Commerce encompasses Spring Lake, Spring Lake Heights, Lake Como and Sea Girt.
“We’re looking for people who have done wonderful things from all of those towns,” Ellen Manger, executive director of the Greater Spring Lake Chamber of Commerce, said of the criteria for choosing the Citizen of the Year.
The chamber’s board of directors receives nominations for Citizen of the Year from both chamber members and nonmembers. The number of nominations the chamber receives each year varies. The board of directors meets to review the qualifications of those nominated and selects one person as Citizen of the Year, Ms. Manger explained.
“It’s more of a global person, giving of themselves, and they have a connection with Spring Lake, their business is here, they live here, they’ve done good work here and they’re part of our community,” stated Ms. Manger.
The chamber recognizes the Citizen of the Year at a formal dinner every spring. The details of the event are currently in the works, but a portion of the net proceeds from the dinner will go to the Ashley Lauren Foundation and the Greater Spring Lake Chamber of Commerce.
The Ashley Lauren Foundation is located at 300 Morris Ave. Suite D in Spring Lake. The foundation is a member of the Greater Spring Lake Chamber of Commerce.
Our 2016 Citizen of the Year Kathy Cunningham is featured in her beautiful Spring Lake home on the Spring Lake Christmas Inn and House Tour.
Kathy Cunningham, a resident of Spring Lake for over 20 years, was chosen as the 2016 Citizen of the Year by the Executive Board of the Greater Spring Lake Chamber of Commerce. Kathy has donated her time and talent for a variety of projects in Spring Lake, but is widely known as the Captain of Team Shamrock (in honor of her brother, Donald Robertson, Jr. who died on 9/11/2001) where she has raised over $400,000 for the Steven Siller Tunnel to Tower Foundation.
The annual Citizen of the Year dinner in honor of Kathy will be held in the spring. Kathy is pictured with George D’Amico, President of the GSLCC at the annual Christmas Party at Ray’s Café in Spring Lake.
Congrats to Kathy Robertson Cunningham - The Greater Spring Lake Chamber of Commerce 2016 Citizen of the Year.
Kathy is the captain of Team Shamrock of the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Tower Foundation. This year alone, they have raised over $200,000 to build smart homes for returning amputee and other deserving vets.
She has coached the St. Catherine Cheerleading squad for the past twenty years. She has served on the Chambers Irish Festival Committee. and participated in the Avon Walk for a Cure. She cleaned our beaches after Sandy and she sat in the July 4th Dunk Tank. She has hosted families of the Derry, Ireland Swim team for the past eighteen years...
Kathy Robertson Cunningham has been the perennial volunteer in things big and small. She is always there. The consummate Cheerleader. Always affirming and supportive of all she comes into contact with . We envision 2016 to be the year that we collectively turn the tables on Kathy Robertson Cunningham - It is high time that we all cheer for her!
Congratulations and a huge Cheer of thanks and gratitude to our 2016 Citizen of the year, Kathy Robertson Cunningham.
-George D'Amico; President of The Greater Spring Lake Chamber of Commerce
To honor a brother who died on 9/11, Kathy Cunningham raised $500,000 to help someone else.
(Photo: Bob Bielk/Gannett NJ, Bob Bielk/Asbury Park Press)
For a few years after Donald Robertson Jr. perished in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, his sister Kathy Cunningham looked for a meaningful way to honor his memory.
Boy, did she find it.
The Spring Lake resident connected with the Tunnel to Towers 5K, an annual run through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel that traces the footsteps of Stephen Siller, a Brooklyn firefighter who died in the towers after racing through the tunnel on foot to get to the scene. Over the past decade, Cunningham has organized a fundraising team to participate in the run, and they have generated nearly $500,000 in donations — enough to build an adaptable "smart home" for a catastrophically injured veteran. It will bear her brother's name.
"To be able to turn a tragedy into a tribute is what it's all about — that good overcomes evil, and people never forget," Cunningham said. "A lot of these young men and women are coming back as triple amputees. It's a win-win that we can give them a better quality of life."
Kathy Cunningham, Spring Lake, honored as Spring Lake Citizen of the Year for raising $500,000 to build homes for disabled vets. She did it to honor the memory of her brother Donald Robertson (pictured), who died in the 9/11 tragedy—May 4, 2016 -Spring Lake, NJ.-Staff photographer/Bob Bielk/Asbury Park Press (Photo: Bob Bielk/Gannett NJ, Bob Bielk/Asbury Park Press)
For her initiative, Cunningham will be honored as Citizen of the Year by the Greater Spring Lake Chamber of Commerce on Thursday at the Spring Lake Bath and Tennis Club.
"She's always been a very outgoing, kind, community-minded person," said Dave D'Alonzo, a colleague at Chris Smith Realty who nominated her for the award. "I was just so impressed with her effort. It's an impossible number ($500,000), and she did it. It's really incredible."
The smart homes are a project of the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation. There are 46 so far — some finished, some under construction or in the planning stages.
"You should see them — the doors open on sensors; the cabinetry comes down; the driveways are heated," Cunningham said. "They operate from a laptop. It's an amazing home."
Kathy Cunningham, Spring Lake, honored as Spring Lake Citizen of the Year for raising $500,000 to build homes for disabled vets. She did it to honor the memory of her brother Donald Robertson, who died in the 9/11 tragedy—May 4, 2016 -Spring Lake, NJ.-Staff photographer/Bob Bielk/Asbury Park Press (Photo: Bob Bielk/Gannett NJ, Bob Bielk/Asbury Park Press)
She is not sure where the Donald Robertson Jr. home will be, but it's certain to be a point of pride for the many folks who pitched in. The Atlantic Club was heavily involved, and so was the lacrosse community. Donald played lacrosse in high school and college, and all four of Kathy's children excelled in the sport — Sean, Patrick and Conor at Christian Brothers Academy, and Kaitlyn at Red Bank Catholic. All of them have worn No. 26, the same number Donald wore.
"It's a great way to keep his spirit and energy alive," Cunningham said.
Of the 500 people on her fundraising team, "Team Shamrock," more than 200 have a lacrosse connection. That includes the entire men's and women's programs at Manhattan College, where Kaitlyn currently plays.
Manasquan High School boys lacrosse coach Sean Cunningham (Photo: File photo)
"Lacrosse is a very tight-knit, small, niche community," said Sean Cunningham, who is the head coach of Manasquan High School's boys team. "To be able to have a bunch of lacrosse players involved in this, it's special."
He's not surprised his mother pulled everyone together.
"As with everything in her life, she does it big, and includes a lot of people," Sean said. "It doesn't shock me how much she's been able to raise, but having done the run and having met the guys who it affects personally and how they're taken care of, it's a wonderful thing to watch."
To join Team Shamrock or contribute to its next campaign, visit www.crowdrise.com/team-shamrock.
Staff Writer Jerry Carino: firstname.lastname@example.org
CITIZEN OF THE YEAR:
Each year the Citizen of the Year Chamber Committee recognizes individuals from the Greater Spring Lake area who, through their personal efforts, have displayed extraordinary service and leadership skills in the quality of life in the community.
Last nights Citizen of the Year Dinner honoring Don and Margie Brahn was beyond a sellout. One of the biggest crowds ever - a testament to our collective gratitude for their 70 plus years of service to the SL Ambulance Corps and Fire Dept. Congrats to two of the most self less people on the planet. Special thank you to our Exec Director Ellen Manger for her great leadership in planning the event.
Sincere Thank you as well to Robert White, Anita Kruse and Nejie Miranda-Sylvester for the wonderful program and to Boris Rabinowitch of Spring Lake Jewelers, The Breakers and Terry and Jon Groark of ArtEffects for their support and generosity. Well done!