Grand Island resident Kali J. (Mordaunt) Korzelius was honored posthumously with the Outstanding Volunteer Award at the annual All Star Night Gala for Roswell Park Cancer Institute on Saturday, Nov. 3.
On Kali's behalf, her husband, Matthew Korzelius and mother, Jackie Pritchard, accepted the Katherine Anne Gioia Inspiration Award, presented each year to a volunteer who is dedicated to the battle against cancer and whose work has inspired others to work for this cause.
Korzelius, an advocate for young cancer patients, believed that volunteering was the rent one pays for just being here. Before she died in her Grand Island home, she sent fellow young people a message with her actions, even after her brain cancer took away most of her mobility and the use of her left arm and leg. Young adults with cancer would see her commitment to the cause, and that inspired them to take an active role in their community.
"Kali was a relentless advocate in the war against cancer," said Roswell Park Cancer Institute President and CEO, Donald L. Trump. "Despite her illness, she advocated nationally and tirelessly to draw attention to the unique challenges of young adults with cancer. Kali and her husband Matt helped launch Roswell Park's Adolescent and Young Adults with Cancer Program - Kali also served as its program assistant. The program continues to make a difference in the lives of so many young people who need support as they journey through their personal fight with cancer."
Like young Katherine Anne Gioia, to whom this award pays tribute, Kali didn't let brain cancer define her life, but instead used her circumstances to inspire and empower other young people with cancer how to "get busy living" - a motto of www.StupidCancer.org. Right up until her final days, it was constantly on her mind, getting back to work, to serve the community of young people with cancer instead of worrying about her own struggles. Korzelius adopted a "pay it forward" approach in all of her efforts.
Korzelius was a 21-year-old college student in 2006 when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The diagnosis was especially devastating because her older brother Keith lost his battle with Burkitt's lymphoma when he was 6 years old and she was 21/2. For most of her life, Korzelius grew up in an atmosphere of volunteering as her family, friends and Grand Island residents and organizations helped raise $1.5 million for pediatric cancer research at Roswell during a 20-year-run of Keith's Classic Memorial Golf Tournament at River Oaks.
When Korzelius was a teenager at Grand Island High School, she started the volunteer group Grand Island Volunteers. Grand Island residents in need of help from young people would contact the high school and Korzelius would round up the volunteers to help the elderly. While growing up in Trinity Church, Kali attended many summer work camps, working locally and in different parts of the county helping to rebuild - a Habitat for Humanity-type group. In her senior year, Korzelius organized GI High School tree plantings to memorialize two fellow students who died much too young.
While at the University of Albany, she worked in an after-school program for disadvantaged youths, and, after earning her master's in psychology, she worked as a social worker for foster-care children in the Bronx.
Friends, loved ones and young cancer survivors - her Team Kali - can still see her smiling face googling "Stupid Cancer Video Diaries Kali."
"My name is Kali Korzelius," she says. "In 2006, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Here's why I think cancer is stupid. I can't move my (left) hand anymore. Now my right hand is working overtime to bring the young-adult movement to Buffalo."
Korzelius and her husband were chairs of the Western New York Stupid Cancer chapter.
"Kali was a fierce warrior; a vigilant advocate for herself, her husband, her community and the young adult movement," said Matthew Zachary, founder and CEO of Stupid Cancer - the largest online support group for young adults in the world. "I had the honor of knowing her and watching her change the world."
The celebrity speaker for All Star Night 2012 was Guiliana Rancic, entertainment journalist, star of E! News and a breast cancer survivor. Rancic was presented with the Gilda Radner Courage Award, which recognizes a cancer survivor whose courageous public battle, like Radner's, has given hope to people with cancer and focused public attention on the cause. The evening's program also included recognition of Kunie Odunsi, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the Department of Gynecologic at Roswell Park, who received the Thomas B. Tomasi Award for his achievements in cancer research.