FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (Oct. 5, 2018) – Eight years ago, the Kraft family and Patriots Foundation introduced Celebrate Volunteerism, a season-long initiative focused on recognizing community volunteers and promoting the importance of giving back to the community through service.

Throughout the 2018 season, the foundation will continue its Celebrate Volunteerism initiative by teaming with nonprofit organizations to educate fans about the need for volunteering, highlighting deserving volunteers from across the region and seeking to inspire Patriots fans to become lifelong volunteers. The foundation will present a weekly “Patriots Difference Maker of the Week” award, which recognizes deserving volunteers who go above and beyond to support their New England communities.

“We originally started the Celebrate Volunteerism initiative as a tribute to my sweetheart, Myra,” said Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft. “Over the past eight years, it has become the heart and soul of the Patriots Foundation, just like Myra was. We enjoy shining the light on local volunteers that are committed to improving the lives of children and families across the region and we hope that this inspires our fans to get more involved in their communities.”

Wilda Hayes from Danbury, Conn. was selected as this week’s 2018 Patriots Difference Maker of the Week for her commitment to Ann’s Place.

Wilda, a pharmaceutical marketing and advertising executive, was one of the first people to volunteer for the Ann Olsen Endowment in 1987, a fund designated to support cancer patients and their families. Ann lost her life to cancer at the age of 38, before she could fulfill her desire to support others on their cancer journey. The Endowment partnered with I Can, a support services group, and eventually merged into Ann’s Place, a full-service nonprofit agency that now supports more than 1,100 clients across Connecticut and New York.

Wilda joined the board of Ann’s Place and later served as its pro bono Executive Director, then President, for 16 years, leading the organization through dramatic clinical services growth during challenging economic times. She played a key role in creating and running key fundraising events like the Ann Olsen Golf Classic, now in its 30th year, and the Festival of Trees in its 16th year. Wilda currently serves on the board and chairs the festival which attracts 5,000 each year to support people facing cancer.

“What an honor to be recognized for my volunteer work as a Patriots Difference Maker,” said Wilda. “To fight cancer with only medical means is rarely enough. Dedicated volunteer support has allowed Ann’s Place to effectively offer amazing professional social, educational and psychological services with only a small paid staff.”

One of her greatest accomplishments was creating a permanent home for the organization. Thanks to Wilda’s efforts, thousands of volunteers came together to build a beautiful 17,000 square foot facility offering comprehensive counseling, support groups and wellness activities.

“Volunteers make it happen everywhere, every day and quietly solve problems that help keep the nonprofit sector delivering services,” said Wilda. “There is very little we could accomplish without volunteers.”

Fifteen individuals will be named Patriots Difference Makers throughout the season. The outstanding volunteers will be recognized on the Patriots website and in print materials, including Patriots Football Weekly and Patriots GameDay magazine. They will also be honored during a special ceremony at the Patriots final regular season home game against the New York Jets on Sunday, December 30.

Fans are encouraged to nominate a local volunteer for the Patriots Difference Maker of the Week award by visiting


“Our Most Memorable Tree”

First in a new series of Stories from Festivals Past

By Wilda Hayes, 2018 Festival Chair

Each year, Festival lovers who donate trees keep an eye out over the winter, spring, and summer months for inspiration for the next tree they will decorate for the Ann’s Place Festival of Trees. The idea could come out of the blue, or it could be the result of scouring Pinterest to see what is trending in holiday trees. Sometimes it takes the form of describing a unique characteristic or hobby of a dear one. When that happens, decorating and dedicating the tree gives us special quiet time to reflect on a life well lived.

Our Most Memorable Tree  

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We would not say it was the most beautiful one, but my daughter and I created that special tree in memory of my brother who had died suddenly. After thinking of all the quirks that endeared him to us, we joked that Mike was never on time. It was also perfectly clear that he simply ran out of time; his was a life far too short for our hearts to accept. We tossed around time concepts and came up with “It’s About Time” as the name for our whimsical tree. We covered the tree with clocks and clock faces of all sizes and shapes. Since he shared a birthday with Elvis, we threw in the Crooner’s clock for good measure. We laughed and cried and ate chocolate, one evening after the next, as we built the tree.

When it was all done, we realized that the experience was much bigger than a donation; it was a therapeutic gift that made us smile.

Although the tree was won at Festival, the winner heard of its personal connection and sweetly gave it back to us. We immediately made an identical one for the winner and kept Mike’s tree in the family.  We have decorated many trees since, but that one lingers in our hearts.  W. Hayes

If you have a special backstory on a tree you created for Festival, please share it with us in 350 words or less, including a photograph of your tree or yourself. Send to with “Tree Backstory” in the subject line. We will post these stories on a space available basis leading up to Festival. We are also interested in talking to people who are creating new trees this year to be interviewed for features in the press.

Decorate and Submit Your Own Tree!

If you would like a great team-building or family activity, be part of Festival by decorating your own tree this year.  Click here to view instructions.

More Festival activities are at:



Women’s Dying Wish to Rejuvenate Those Who Help

Susan H. Bowker Provides 105 Scholarships for Training for Cancer Professionals

Jennifer Phelps, Owner, Phelps MD Integrative Medicine, addresses over 105 cancer care professionals at the opening session of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine 4-day training at Ann’s Place. By the end of the last session, these same professionals were laughing and hugging each other - better equipped for the burdens they face each day in their work

Jennifer Phelps, Owner, Phelps MD Integrative Medicine, addresses over 105 cancer care professionals at the opening session of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine 4-day training at Ann’s Place. By the end of the last session, these same professionals were laughing and hugging each other - better equipped for the burdens they face each day in their work

May 3-6, 2018 (Danbury, CT) It was a very different scene at Ann’s Place this last week thanks to funding from Susan H. Bowker (Redding), who passed away last year. For four days, facilitators from The Center for Mind-Body Medicine helped local and national cancer care professionals learn techniques to, not only care for their clients, but also to care for themselves. Participants spent time in large gathering sessions learning new skills and 16 hours in small groups practicing on themselves.

“Many participants realized they spend so much time listening to others, it was a huge relief to have their own concerns heard,” said Shannon Cobb, President and CEO of Ann’s Place. “These are some of our most caring people in the community and it felt so good to see them laugh and de-stress.”

In the entrance lobby participants were greeted by a heartwarming picture of Susan H. Bowker laughing. A simple statement from the family welcomed them, “Susan had the unique gift of making anyone she came in contact with feel like they were the most important person in her world. This empowerment challenged them to become a better person not just to their loved ones, but to all they came in contact with as well. It is our thought and hope that this grant will follow this same path that our mother, Susan H. Bowker, has put into motion and will continue to expand and empower others.”

Over the four days each participant was made to feel like they were truly important, just as Susan would have wanted. The Center for Mind-Body Medicine facilitators gave these caring professionals numerous techniques and information on things such as nutrition, meditation exercises, mind-body science, stress release, trauma and transformation, spiritual wellness, and creating genograms. Participants also had time to make lasting relationships with other professionals in their field.

James S. Gordon M.D., Founder and Executive Director of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine; Fritz Kallin and Emily Kallin (son and daughter-in-law of Susan H. Bowker); Jennifer Phelps, Owner, Phelps MD Integrative Medicine, and Shannon Cobb, President and CEO of Ann’s Place, stand in front of a photo of Susan Bowker. Over 105 professional cancer caregivers received a full scholarship to come to Ann’s Place for a 4-day training on mind-body wellness.

James S. Gordon M.D., Founder and Executive Director of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine; Fritz Kallin and Emily Kallin (son and daughter-in-law of Susan H. Bowker); Jennifer Phelps, Owner, Phelps MD Integrative Medicine, and Shannon Cobb, President and CEO of Ann’s Place, stand in front of a photo of Susan Bowker. Over 105 professional cancer caregivers received a full scholarship to come to Ann’s Place for a 4-day training on mind-body wellness.

"In this training we shared practical techniques for self-awareness, self-care, and group support with an extraordinary group of caregivers," said James S. Gordon, MD, Founder and Executive Director of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine, "We wanted to make sure that participants learned the science of mind-body medicine and had the opportunity to experience the benefits of meditation, guided imagery, biofeedback, and self-expression in words, drawings, and movement in supportive small groups. We hope as well to continue to work with the leadership of Ann's Place and many of those who serve their community."

Ann’s Place is a perfect setting for rejuvenation. Thanks to thousands of people from the local community, it was designed for both large and small groups to meet and help people through their cancer journey with counseling, support and wellness programs – all at no charge. The cozy home-like environment with outdoor garden paths and labyrinth is only made possible by over 900 volunteers who continue to maintain the facility through cleaning, gardening, facilitating, providing wellness programs and fundraising.

“This has opened up new possibilities for Ann’s Place and we will continue to seek ways to help keep our caregivers strong in our shared mission to serve those with cancer,” said Cobb.

Ann’s Place provides help and hope to those living with cancer and their loved ones. Their clinical social workers, facilitators and wellness experts provide a host of services aimed at improving quality of life during and after cancer. Ann’s Place relies on the generosity of donors to be able to continue providing these services free of charge.  Find out more at or call 203-790-6568 to speak with a clinician about services.

The Center for Mind-Body Medicine (CMBM) is a worldwide leader in making self-care, group support, and community-building central to all healthcare, the training of health professionals, and the education of children. CMBM has focused on providing innovative solutions to some of the world’s most intractable and complex psychological and physical problems. CMBM’s international faculty of 160 experts have trained over 5,000 health professionals, educators, and community leaders in our pioneering mind-body medicine model of self-care, self-awareness, and group support; they in turn integrate the model into their communities and use it with the populations they serve, allowing us to benefit millions of people. Learn more at


Celebrating the Life of Marian Kretsch

By Wilda Hayes

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Ann’s Place joins our communities in Connecticut and beyond in paying tribute to a life well lived.

Marian Kretsch left us on March 1, 2018. A 29-year resident of Southbury, and formerly a 33-year resident of Newtown, Marian was born in Vienna, Austria, in April 1920. She immigrated to America in 1940, two years after escaping the brutal Nazi regime with her family. Marian personified courage and overcame many odds in her lifetime, yet always stayed adventurous, relevant, and current. You can read more about the beautiful life and family Marian built here.

Marian was a keen supporter of Ann’s Place, among many favorite charities. Her tribute to the courage of cancer survivors will live on in the Marian and Hans Kretsch Meditation Gardens on our grounds, for which she provided the initial funding. Today her vision of a peaceful garden area for reflection from the stresses of cancer has been developed by volunteer horticulturist Erik Keller and is being maintained by individual and corporate volunteer labor and voluntary contributions for materials and equipment.

We send deepest condolences to Marian’s sister Lilli, sons Tom (Sandi) and Martin (Judy), four granddaughters and five great-grandchildren. The Kretsch family has designated Ann’s Place for memorial contributions which will help further Marian’s vision of providing solace and peace to those on the cancer journey. To make a memorial donation, please click here.

Marian's full obituary can be read here.

The Art of Being Mindful

by Kevin Berrill, LCSW

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Having meditated for many years, I have experienced significant benefits from the practice of mindfulness and I love sharing it with others, including our clients here at Ann’s Place.

Mindfulness has been described as intentional and accepting awareness of whatever arises in the present moment.  With gentle and persistent practice, mindfulness has the potential to help us to develop insight, to work skillfully with physical and emotional pain, and to respond more flexibly to life’s challenges.  Although mindfulness does not rid our lives of difficulties, it can help us to relate to them with greater balance and compassion.  We become more intimate, accepting, and even friendly with this life—just as it is—including the experience of cancer, our own or that of a loved one.

Research on those who consistently practice mindfulness shows that the practice has the potential to foster greater self-awareness, greater attunement and empathy towards others, increased feelings of gratitude, an increased ability to modulate fear, and a heightened ability to understand the perspectives and realities of others.  Mindfulness has also been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in people dealing with cancer. 

On the Ann’s Place website, you’ll find information on cultivating a meditation practice, online resources on mindfulness, and common misunderstandings about mindfulness.  I have also recorded and posted several meditations to help guide you through the practice.  I invite you to listen to them to see if they might be of benefit to you. 

If you or someone you love has been affected by cancer, you are welcome to join us at Ann’s Place for Midweek Mindfulness, our weekly meditation and discussion group.   We meet on Wednesdays at noon at our location at 80 Saw Mill Road.  If it’s your first time, please call to register.

If you have questions about Midweek Mindfulness or about mindfulness practice, please feel free to call me at 203.790.6568 or email me at

Learn more about mindfulness.

Caregivers Give Care. And So Much More.

By Rudy Spannaus, Caring Group Facilitator at Ann's Place

As the word implies, “Caregivers“, give care to others. However, for those of us caring for someone we love with a cancer diagnosis, we know that the word caregiver encompasses so much more. We become well versed in medical vocabulary so we understand what the doctors tell us. We become the keepers of all medical information about our loved one and systematically organize it in a gigantic binder that is kept with us at all times. We file insurance claims, pay bills, attend doctor appointments, take care of families and go to work. We cry. We worry. We get angry and feel afraid. We protect our loved ones and absorb their fears and concerns . . . often downplaying or even negating our own emotions. We jump into the role of caregiver with little to no training, learn as we go and question our ability to do all that this new role demands. 

As a caregiver, it is equally important that we “give care” to ourselves. Perhaps doing so is the hardest aspect of our role. We feel guilty if we take time for ourselves. We expect our bodies and emotions to keep up, to do more, and we minimize the impact of this new role on our health and wellness. There are limits to our endurance; caring for a loved one with cancer resembles a marathon, not a sprint. By taking care of ourselves we are more able to take care of others.

Consider these possible options as a start:

  • Allow others to help you.
  • Set healthy boundaries.
  • Maintain your own health.
  • Don't beat yourself up with guilt.
  • Compliment yourself on the tremendous caregiving job you are doing.

The website offers practical information to help with a variety of issues caregivers encounter. As caregivers, taking small steps in the way we care for ourselves can have a big impact on the quality of care we give to others.

There are many options of support available to us. As your schedule allows, visit Ann’s Place and attend a wellness activity or a support group. The Caring Group meets on the first and third Wednesday evening of each month. Our group offers caregivers a chance to spend time with others who are facing similar challenges and uncertainties. To register for this group or others, please contact Ann's Place at 203-790-6568. A Calendar of Programs is also available at the Ann's Place website. All are welcome.

Rudy earned her Master's Degree in Counseling from Fairfield University. She has worked with adolescents, families and educators in a school setting for the past seven years and is honored to join Ann's Place as a volunteer group facilitator. Rudy lives in Brookfield with her husband and enjoys spending time with family, friends, and her dog on Candlewood Lake.


Cancer and the holidays: Keeping it simple, keeping it real

By Kevin Berrill, LCSW

Kevin Berrill, LCSW

Ready or not, the holidays--Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Years--are just around the corner. Even the healthiest people can feel overwhelmed or overstimulated by the frantic pace, unrealistically high expectations, and the sensory overload of holiday music, advertisements, food and drink, decorations and displays, and social obligations. 

People affected by cancer experience the holidays differently. Some glide through the season with ease and a feeling of joy; for others it a hard slog to be endured. One of the most common reactions is ambivalence.

On the one hand the holidays can be a welcome departure from routine. They afford an opportunity to look more deeply into life, take less for granted, reset priorities, renew spiritual faith, or connect more deeply with loved ones and strangers. On the other hand, for many the holidays are source of added stress and uncertainty. People with cancer (and other serious illnesses), along with their caregivers, often feel out of sync with the celebratory atmosphere all around them and have unrealistic expectations of themselves and others. 

The holidays mark the end of one year and the beginning of another. They are a time when we look at the past and toward the future. Those who are newly diagnosed, especially those with cancers that are difficult to treat or have a poor prognosis, may look to the coming year with trepidation. Fear that “this will be the last” can weigh heavily and lead some to overexert in order to make the season perfect. The prospect of a new year also raises questions for those who have finished treatment or who have an excellent prognosis: “Will it come back next year?” “If it does, how will I manage it?

Some in the midst of cancer treatment--and their caregivers--may wonder if they have the stamina to get through the holidays and another round of chemotherapy, radiation, or some other treatment. Those who once avidly shopped and entertained might now dread the prospect of doing either. 

Visiting with loved ones for the first time since undergoing treatment can be comforting and heartwarming. For some it can also be awkward and anxiety provoking, especially having to deal with others’ reactions to their diagnosis or changed appearance (e.g., loss of hair, weight loss or gain). These reactions may include discomfort, avoidance, pity, fear, unwelcome medical advice, or lectures on what to think or feel in order to get well.  

Cancer treatment is expensive, unmanageably so for those who have no medical insurance or who are underinsured, or who are unable to work. Those under financial stress, especially those whose tradition it is to exchange gifts, face difficult choices about what, if anything, they can afford. For parents of young children these choices are all the more difficult. 

Despite medical advances, much about cancer cannot be controlled. To find a sense of balance in the midst cancer and the holidays requires forethought and planning. If you or someone you love is facing cancer consider the following suggestions: 

Life threatening illnesses, such as some cancers, change the world as we know it. It is natural for those affected by cancer (the ill or those close to them) to feel sad, angry, despairing, confused, numb, or lonely. Ignoring and suppressing your feelings and pretending to be cheerful are likely to make the holidays more difficult. Sometimes when we accept rather than resist our feelings, moments of happiness break through the clouds. If so, give yourself permission to enjoy those moments.

If you have concerns about whether your usual holiday plans are right this year, it is okay to break with tradition. Allow yourself to change where, when, how, and with whom you spend the holiday. If you used to host holiday dinners, consider a potluck instead. Give yourself permission to decline party invitations and to avoid people and situations that leave you feeling depleted, irritated, or depressed.

Let others know if you don’t if have the energy or the financial means to buy presents. If you choose to participate in holiday gift giving, keep it simple. For example, shop online, buy gift cards, or buy the same item for each of your recipients. Limit your spending to what you can afford and will not regret later.

It matters less what you plan to do than that you have a plan. Spontaneity is great, but having a plan, even if you decide to change it, is likely to give you a greater sense of control, making it less likely that you will end up feeling isolated or blindsided by others’ expectations and decisions. Consult with others close to you about your plan. Be gentle and try to pace yourself. Perhaps your plan will be the start of a new, simpler, and saner holiday tradition---or maybe it will be just enough to help you muddle through until January 2.

Try to get enough rest, nourishment, and exercise. Be mindful of your alcohol consumption. Alcohol is a depressant and can worsen your mood. Limit sugary treats as they too can leave you feeling run down. Stick as much as possible to your routines and eat sensibly, including plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.

If there is someone in your life affected by cancer, offer them the gift of your listening and care. When it comes to holiday plans, let them lead. Don’t hover or overdo or overprotect. Refrain from fixing, giving advice, or pushing a holiday agenda; rather, explore with them what would offer the greatest healing and comfort. If you offer a holiday invitation and they decline, let them know they can change their mind at the last minute. A thoughtful phone call, card, or email can also make a meaningful difference. 

If you want to offer help, be specific: “Can I pick up anything for you while I’m at the grocery store?” or “Would you like me to take the kids out so you can get some rest?” is much more helpful than “Let me know if there is anything I can do.”

At a time when so many around you are caught in an endless round of buying presents, give yourself the gift of presence, taking a sacred pause several times a day to refresh yourself and just be.

If you need practical support, reach out to understanding loved ones. They may be eager to help but not know how. Let them know what you need--a cooked meal, help with shopping or hosting, someone to babysit the kids, prayers, or kind and supportive listening. Delegate responsibilities whenever possible.

In a world that extols health and vigor and promotes the illusion that life is controllable, the experience of cancer sometimes brings with it feelings of isolation and stigma.  The antidote to loneliness is connection. To the extent you can, open yourself to others’ attention and affection. If you have the energy, offer your care to someone else--a loved one or a stranger. Compassionate speech and action helps us all to transcend difficult circumstances and enter more fully into our shared human condition. 

For those with a particular religious faith or spiritual practice, cancer is an invitation to explore and deepen. Faith communities can be a wellspring of inspiration and a source of practical support. 

Solitude can quiet the mind and body, help us to recharge, and tune in to what matters most. Allow yourself time alone when need it.

It helps to be around people who “get” what it feels like to be affected by cancer. Our services, which are offered free of charge, are there for you this holiday season and all year long. Reach out to us if you think we might be able to help. Doing so may help the holiday season--and the year ahead--look and feel brighter.

Kevin Berrill is a clinical social worker at Ann’s Place.  For more information about Ann’s Place services, please call 203.790.6568.