Andrew Firestone shares the stage with Rylie Katz, Earl Minnis and Nikki Katz. | Credit: Courtesy

Santa Barbara – Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation (TBCF) held its 9th annual Gold Ribbon Luncheon on Oct. 13 to a reduced capacity crowd supporting families of children battling cancer. Guests gathered at the Hilton Beachfront Resort’s outdoor plaza for an elegant al fresco luncheon and heartwarming program to celebrate the return of their flagship luncheon event and support the work of TBCF, the only non-profit organization that provides financial, emotional and educational assistance to families who have a child with cancer in the tri-counties.

This year’s Gold Ribbon Luncheon was hosted by Andrew Firestone and featured NFL’s Curt Menefee as inspirational speaker.  Mr. Menefee spoke to the power of community support and a message of “give until it feels good.”  The vision behind the event’s Dream Big theme was shared by TBCF’s new Executive Director Dr. Corey Pahanish. Pahanish announced that TBCF will soon be embarking on a capital campaign to find a permanent home and increase the organization’s ability to provide a host of additional services to the families they serve.  The mission is to create a full-scale pediatric cancer support center incorporating multiple aligned non-profits, additional services and specialized care for the entire family.

The Gold Ribbon Luncheon provided a number of heartwarming and awe-inspiring moments, the first of which was the live auction of a two-tiered chocolate and raspberry cake baked by 13 year old Rylie Katz, daughter of TBCF Founder Nikki Katz. Katz is a member of TBCF’s Youth Philanthropy program, and she auctioned the cake as her project fundraiser. The cake was purchased by TBCF’s Premier Sponsor and long-time supporter Earl Minnis for an astounding $100,000!

Andrew & Giana Miller provided a moving family testimonial and shared their difficult three-year cancer journey with their son Henry who is only six years old. Their story culminated with the announcement that only days before the event Henry had finally rung the End-of-Chemo bell at Cottage Hospital. Miller then asked the luncheon attendees to lift their centerpieces to reveal hidden bells for each of the guests to ring in honor of Henry. The event’s stunning décor was colorful and whimsical. A massive tent was decorated with multi-colored drapery, tissue paper flowers, and colorful paper lanterns. At the close of the Millers’ speech the announcement was made that the guests weren’t simply attending a fundraising luncheon; rather, they were guests at Henry’s End-of-Chemo party. To mark the occasion, Captain America visited Henry on stage to deliver a present and a fist bump.

The previous day’s smoke and high winds appeared to calm moments before the event began and picked up again soon after the program closed. “It seems we may have had a bit of magic on our side today,” shared TCBF’s Events & Communications Director Kirsten Stuart, who vividly remembers the 2018 luncheon that was dramatically affected by an unexpected microburst of rain.  “The weather was perfect, our guests were happy and we got to celebrate Henry!”

Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation’s Sr. Development Director, Brittany Avila Wazny, announced the new inclusion of siblings to TBCF’s Educational Advocacy program. Avila Wazny herself is the sibling of a pediatric cancer survivor and vividly remembers the toll it took on her family’s emotional health and educational wellbeing. “I can recall a number of nights when my younger sister was asking for my help with homework while my parents were at my brother’s bedside in the hospital,” shared Wazny, “I can’t tell you how meaningful it is for me to be able to provide these additional educational services to the siblings also affected by pediatric cancer in a different way.  It’s so easy to forget about the other kids in the family when one is so very ill.”

Giana Miller holds the End-of-Chemo bell for her son Henry. | Credit: Courtesy

At the close of the luncheon two families were honored for their enduring support for Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation’s mission. The Taylor family received the Pay it Forward award for their involvement after their son Wyatt’s cancer battle. The Taylors were past recipients of TBCF’s services and vowed to leave the organization in a better position for having served their family. Additionally, the Greene family received the Heart of Gold award for their decade of volunteerism, advocacy and financial support. Nikki Greene served on multiple committees, on the board of directors and the entire family regularly volunteers during the holidays.

The staff of Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation was unaware that during the luncheon a family that they serve was in the midst of another unthinkable crisis. The following day a social worker from Cottage Hospital placed an emergency call to TBCF to assist a family affected by the Alisal Fire. Overnight the family of a three year old cancer patient lost their home and employment due to the fire. Gisselle Madrigal, TBCF’s Family Resource Specialist, was able to quickly secure a hotel for the family and provide multiple restaurant meal cards. Nikki Katz and friends also helped the family with a monetary gift card. The next day Madrigal learned that the family’s 15 year old son missed his birthday due to the fire. She got to work. TBCF secured a Nintendo Switch for his birthday present, another restaurant meal card, and tickets to the Santa Barbara Zoo. “It was such a wonderful feeling to be able to provide such immediate assistance to this family.  We were able to secure them temporary housing and help them celebrate their son. It was a wonderful feeling, especially immediately after witnessing the generosity of our supporters the day before!” shared Madrigal.

Funds raised at the Gold Ribbon Luncheon support Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation’s mission to provide financial, educational and emotional support to families living in the tri-counties. The luncheon was made possible by the work of an enthusiastic committee led by co-chairs Eileen Dill & Brigitte Welty, and Vice-Chair Adriana Mezic. Major sponsors included Earl Minnis, The Greene Family, The Albertsons Vons Foundation, Kate & Arthur Coppola, Diana Crothers, Dr. Robert Kammer & Donna Barranco Fisher, Alan & Mary Jane Miller, Pacific Premier Bank, and the Rudi Schulte Family Foundation. A complete list of sponsors is available on the TBCF website.

About Teddy Bear Cancer FoundationTeddy Bear Cancer Foundation is a non-profit organization with a mission to advocate for families living in Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties who have a child with cancer by providing financial, educational and emotional support. Services are provided to families of children with cancer up to age 18 and continuing until the patient reaches 21 years of age. For more information, or to make a donation, call 805-962-7466 or visit


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