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Emmanuel Cancer Foundation

Serving New Jersey's Children and Their Families Since 1983



On February 5, 1981, Emmanuel Vizzoni was diagnosed with Burkett’s lymphoma just weeks after his seventh birthday. Over the next two months, his parents, Joseph and Susan Vizzoni, alternated shifts at the hospital while their son endured grueling medical treatments. Sadly, on April 5 of that year, the lymphoma claimed Manny’s life, leaving his family to pick up the pieces.

Coping with their grief and explaining to their younger daughter why her brother had simply “disappeared” proved to be incredibly difficult for the Vizzoni family. At that time, medical treatments for pediatric cancers were developing rapidly; however there were large gaps in the emotional, spiritual, and financial support available for families. Susan reflects, “Joe and I came to understand—because we were running back and forth to the hospital while family members helped care for our daughter—that families with other circumstances must have an incredibly difficult time managing this. We realized that the best thing we could do to cope with our own loss was to start helping others in this situation.”

In 1983, after two years of kitchen-table talks and networking, the Vizzonis established the Emmanuel Cancer Foundation (ECF) in memory of their son. At that time, the purpose of ECF was to fill in gaps that medical insurance did not cover, to provide assistance in the home, and to give spiritual support and guidance to families struggling to deal with their child’s diagnosis. Joseph and Susan felt that it was important to help all members of the family, not just the child with cancer.

At first, families were hesitant to accept any support from the Emmanuel Cancer Foundation. Joseph and Susan recall talking to one mother who said, “We’re having enough trouble getting food on the table. We don’t have time to sit down with a counselor.” In response, an ECF volunteer delivered a new microwave to the family’s door. Overwhelmed that an organization was willing and able to make a huge difference with a small gesture, this family became one of ECF’s first.

Even in the beginning, Caseworkers would visit a new family’s home to assess their situation. Was the family having trouble getting to and from the hospital? Were they having trouble getting meals on the table? Were they able to keep on top of the surmounting medical bills? Through the Caseworkers’ guidance, ECF was able to meet some of the families’ needs, thus helping to improve their overall quality of life.

Since those early days, ECF has helped over 2000 families in New Jersey manage their struggle with pediatric cancer. ECF recognizes that each family has a different experience and different needs. Consequently, ECF staff, Caseworkers, and volunteers have dedicated themselves over the past decades to helping families address these needs as they arise. ECF continues to provide a comprehensive package of support at no cost and in the comfort of the family’s ­home. Services are coordinated by professional Caseworkers, who work with the children, siblings, and caretakers to help preserve their quality of life as they grapple with the challenges of pediatric cancer.



Joann Passantino

Executive Director

Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Joann received her Bachelor of Professional Studies from the Laboratory Institute of Merchandising in New York, where she proceeded to work in the fast paced, “glamorous” world of fashion.  But her passion for charitable work was always stronger than her interest in the garment industry, and ultimately would take her far away from Fashion Avenue.

In 1994, having left both the garment industry and New York City to raise a family at the Jersey Shore, Joann applied for a position at the Emmanuel Cancer Foundation (ECF) in Monmouth County.  Little did she know that answering that ad would lead her to the demanding, and unbelievably rewarding, job as ECF’s Eastern Regional Director, a role in which she found the outlet for her desire to help others.  In this position, she worked on behalf of area families struggling with pediatric cancer, running highly successful fundraising events, engaging the local media, being an ambassador for ECF, and leading many teams of active volunteers.

In 2015, Joann’s dedication to ECF and its families, her drive to grow the organization, and her contagious enthusiasm earned her the title of ECF’s Executive Director.  In addition to overseeing the operations of this statewide organization and its four regional centers, Joann works with the Board of Trustees on developing the strategic plan, fundraising and budgeting, guides 23 staff members, and is responsible for maintaining a growing budget.

In addition to her 23+ years of work in the non-profit sector, she has also been, and continues to be, an active volunteer in the community, loves to spend time outdoors with her family and riding horses.
P: (908) 322-4323 EXT. 16

Victoria Shestack Aronoff

Development & Communications Manager

Victoria Shestack Aronoff comes to ECF with nearly 20 years of experience helping nonprofit organizations raise money to support their missions. Though recently she spent a number of years at home raising her two children, she formerly worked as a Foundation Relations Manager for The Wilderness Society, a national conservation organization in Washington, D.C., and was responsible for grant writing and other development activities at the D.C. Jewish Community Center. Victoria has a B.A. in English from Wesleyan University and was born and raised in New York City. She now lives happily away from the city in Maplewood, NJ.
P: (908) 322-4323 EXT. 15

Patricia A. Picone, C.P.A.

Accounting Consultant

Trish Piccone has worked closely with the Emmanuel Cancer Foundation for years, providing accounting services and support for grant proposals. Her public accounting experience has been a valuable asset to ECF. She holds a BS degree from Montclair State University and is a CPA.

P: (908) 322-4323 EXT. 12

Gloria Pocchio

Office Manager

Gloria is ECF’s Office Manager, providing vital support to headquarters and the four Regional Centers. She comes to ECF with rich experience after working for 21-years at Stat-A-Matrix in Edison, where she served in a variety of roles.

P: (908) 322-4323 EXT. 10

Barbara Kopel

Senior Regional Director

Barbara has B.A. in Business Administration and Urban Planning from Montclair State and a Master’s degree in education. Prior to joining ECF in 2007, Barbara spent 20 years as the owner/operator of a meeting planning company where she worked extensively with the pharmaceutical industry for over 20 years. She has also spent time as an elementary school teacher.

P: (908) 322-4323 EXT. 17

Rosemarie Contreras

Eastern Regional Director

Rose began her career in New York City in the field of customer service. Upon relocation to the Jersey Shore, she pursued a career in the service industry. Always having a strong passion for working with children led Rose to a position at Wall Township Public Schools and also to the Emmanuel Cancer Foundation where she volunteered for 19 years. In July 2015 Rose joined the ECF staff as Eastern Regional Director, bringing with her multitude of talents which directly benefit the Foundation and ECF families. Rose takes great pride in assisting and supporting the families in the Eastern region.

P: (732) 282-2324

Patricia Brussel

Northern Regional Director

Patricia graduated from Siena College with a BS in Marketing/Management. At the start of her career, Patricia worked in both the financial and legal fields. She presently works at the Ridgewood Public Library helping her community with a variety of services. Her passion for community outreach, volunteering and helping families in need led her to ECF where she joined the staff in September 2015.

P: (201) 612-8118

Mary Ann Sullivan

Southern Regional Director

Mary Ann returns to a role with ECF that she held back in the 1990s.  At that time, she originated ECF’s southern Outreach Center and garnered much community support to fulfill the needs of the ECF families.  Mary Ann later worked as the Director of Volunteer and Guest Services at the local hospital.  During that time, she served for many years on the board, including as President, for the NJ Association of Healthcare Volunteer Resource Professionals.  She is also a member or a volunteer for several community organizations, both professionally and personally.  Mary Ann has a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Rowan University and her professional certification, as Certified Administrator of Volunteer Services is through the American Hospital Association. When she is not focusing on ECF families, she is focusing on her own five  young grandchildren.

P: (856) 853-4803

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Melanie Giblin

Southern Regional Consultant

For many years, as a volunteer and participant at ECF events, Melanie witnessed firsthand the wonderful ways that ECF has assisted children and families. In October 2015, the position of Southern Regional Consultant became available, and Melanie was intensely drawn to become a more integral part of the organization. Prior to her position at ECF, Melanie was an active volunteer for a number of advocacy and assistance groups, including seven years on the PTA at her son’s elementary school. Melanie is grateful to be a part of the ECF team and playing such an important role in advancing the efforts of the ECF Southern Region.

P: (732) 282-2324


Gilberto Velasquez, MSW, LSW

Senior Casemanager

Gilberto Velasquez, MSW, LSW is a graduate of Rutgers University. Since 1990, he has served many leadership roles within the NASW-NJ Chapter including the Children’s Committee, Continuing Education Committees, Unit Chairperson for Camden, Gloucester, Salem County, Treasurer and 2nd Vice-President, former co-chairperson of the NASW-NJ Committee on Diversity and Cultural Competency, and current member of the Continuing Education Committee. Gil also serves on many local committees focusing on the needs of children and families. Gil first began working for ECF in 1998, initially as a Caseworker. As ECF’s Senior Case Manager Gil assists in the guidance and supervision of the Caseworkers in direct partnership with the ECF Director.

Eileen Appelbaum, MA, LAC


Eileen Appelbaum received her Bachelor’s degree in elementary and early childhood education from Brooklyn College in NY and then taught elementary school. She went back to school and earned a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology from The College of St. Elizabeth in Morristown, NJ. She currently holds a license as an Associate Counselor in the state of NJ. Eileen feels that her role as a Caseworker with the children and families in the Morris, Sussex and Warren Counties adds another dimension to her life.

Evelyn Dormekpor, MSW


Evelyn Dormekpor graduated from University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice and holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work with a concentration in Clinical Direct Practice. Evelyn joined the Emmanuel Cancer Foundation in 2006 and enjoys serving families affected with pediatric cancer. She also has experience working with other vulnerable populations such as minority groups and immigrant families providing counseling, advocacy, and case management. When providing services to her families Evelyn takes pride in going above and beyond expectations by ensuring that the client needs are met quickly and fully.

Malina Garcia, LSW


Malina Mulero Garcia is a licensed social worker in the State of New Jersey and New York. She earned her Master’s Degree from Columbia University School of Social Work in 2001 where she specialized in Advanced Clinical Practice in Health and Mental Health. She also earned a Post Master’s certificate in Advanced Clinical Practice from New York University. Malina has many years experience working with children, adolescents and families most recently as a clinical social worker in an intensive outpatient adolescent day program. She is excited to be a part of the Emmanuel Cancer Foundation team.

Deborah Halpern, MSW


Deborah is a graduate of The School of Social Policy & Practice at the University of Pennsylvania. She is a member of the Academy of Certified Social Workers and has a B.A. in Psychology from Case Western Reserve University. Deborah has had experience in providing support and resources and being an advocate for patients and families coping with a diagnosis of cancer. She has worked in the patient and family services departments at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and the American Cancer Society in New Jersey. Deborah has worked with staff from the Emmanuel Cancer Foundation and is excited about now being a part of their casework team.

Allison Kanarek, LCSW


Allison Kanarek is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the State of New Jersey and holds an MSW from New York University. Allison has extensive clinical experience working with children, adolescents, and their families. Allison has worked in a hospital setting on an inpatient psychiatric unit for children ages 5-17, provided in-home therapy services to children and families who were in need of support and therapy, and now currently works as a School Social Worker in an alternative high school setting in Union County. Allison enjoys spending time with her friends and family and her hobbies include running, traveling, and eating sushi! Allison is extremely excited to be working with the families who are involved with the Emmanuel Cancer Foundation.

Ilene Langweil, LSW


Ilene Langweil is a certified social worker with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Monmouth University and a Master’s in social work from Temple University. She has been a social worker for over 20 years with experience in long term care/discharge planning, Medicaid/Medicare managed care, people with developmental disabilities and mentally-ill chemical abusers. Ilene has been with ECF since 2003 and loves working with the kids who have cancer and their families in Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, and Union counties. In her supervisory role at ECF, Ilene also enjoys assisting with case management oversight.

Ana Martinez


Ana Martinez earned her Master’s degree in Human Services from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. She has worked in a school setting as an outreach worker, an advocate, and at-risk support staff, providing services in both the home and school for the students and their families. In addition, she has worked as a visiting coach for the county, assisting at risk families. Ana is bilingual in English and Spanish. She enjoys traveling and spending quality time with her family and friends. Ana is excited to join the ECF team.


Michele Miller, LPC


Michele Miller is a Licensed Professional Counselor in NJ and a Certified Diplomate with the American Psychotherapy Association. Since 1998, she has worked with hundreds of children and families providing counseling, advocacy, and emotional support for ECF. She also maintains a private counseling practice in West Orange.

Amy O’Connell, LSW


Amy O’Connell is a Licensed Social Worker in the state of NJ. She has been a Caseworker in Middlesex and Monmouth counties since 2004. She holds an MSW from Temple University. Her work experience includes employment at The Division of Youth and Family Services as well as in a hospital as a Medical Social Worker.

Tara Quinlan, LSW


Tara is a graduate of Rutgers University and has a Master’s Degree in Social Work. Tara is also a Licensed Social Worker in the State of New Jersey. Tara has both professional and personal experience with individuals with cancer diagnoses. Tara has experience in mental/behavioral health, community, and medical social work as well as providing case management, counseling, support, and advocacy. Tara’s interest and passion involves working with children and helping families in need. Tara is very excited to be able to serve the pediatric population through the Emmanuel Cancer Foundation.

Denise Rodriguez, MHS


Denise Rodriguez earned her Master’s degree in Human Services with a Concentration in Counseling from Lincoln University, PA. Denise has worked with children and families in a school setting providing counseling, case management and serving as an advocate. In addition she has worked in providing intensive in-home services to parents of youth at risk of being placed. Denise is bilingual and fluent in Spanish. Denise enjoys spending quality time with her family and friends, as well as traveling and baking when her time permits. She is extremely excited to be joining the Emmanuel Cancer Foundation team and looking forward to working with the families.

Erin Swetits, LSW


Erin Swetits is a licensed social worker who graduated from Rutgers University. She has been working in the field of social work since 2005. Her background includes working with children and families in a school setting, a private practice, and a hospital setting. She possesses a certification in case-management which translates to a strong understanding of the healthcare system and community resources available to her ECF families.

Caitlin Yanowitz, LCSW


Caitlin Yanowitz earned a BA degree in Psychology from Rutgers University and a Masters degree in Social Work from New York University. She holds a Clinical Social Work License (LCSW) in the state of New Jersey. Caitlin has worked in several healthcare settings with a main focus on children, adolescents and adults dealing with chronic and serious illnesses. Caitlin is equipped with the training and experience to successfully help ECF children and their families cope with their pediatric cancer diagnosis and effectively support them through this time.

Board of Trustees

Steven M. Wooton, Sr.

Senior Application Consultant, (C) Systems Global

Steven M. Wooton, Sr. is the President of the Board of Trustees. When he is not busy volunteering his services as Santa, or chairing his annual dinner/dance, or working endlessly with the Odd Fellows of NJ, he works as a Senior Application Consultant.

Michael Yuschak

Vice President
President/CEO, Shore Systems, LLC

Carl Hillier, CPA

Sr. Director – Corporate Finance, Johnson & Johnson

Carl began his association with The Emmanuel Cancer Foundation in 2007. The Corporate Finance team at Johnson and Johnson was seeking to partner with a local charitable organization where they could make a positive contribution and who had a mission that is consistent with the J&J Credo. In the beginning, Carl and the J&J Finance team provided decorated gift bags for the children and this involvement grew over the years to include an Annual Holiday Party for ECF families, fund raising and food drives. Carl has been with Johnson & Johnson for 25 years working in many areas of finance in Canada and the United States. He is currently based in the Worldwide Headquarters in New Brunswick, NJ.

Betsy Shaheen

Corporate Secretary-Credit, Builders General Supply Company

For over 30 years Betsy Shaheen has been running special events and handling customer accounts at her family business, Builders’ General Supply Company, which has been selling lumber, windows, cabinetry and more to homeowners and contractors since it was started by her grandfather in 1931. ECF’s founders, the Vizzonis, were customers of Builders General, and got the company, Betsy, and her brother involved in the organization. Betsy, who graduated from Seton Hall University, currently lives in Atlantic Highlands and has three daughters.


Christina Mecca

Recording Secretary

Bill Campbell

Director of Business Development, Townsquare Media

Karen Diaz

Director, Affinitor Marketing, Novartis

Ralph Diaz

VP, Sr. Financial Advisor, Merrill Lynch

Ralph has spent over 25 years in the financial services industry. He currently works at Merrill Lynch as Vice President, Senior Financial Advisor and is a designated Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor.  Whether devising an investment program, determining estate needs or creating a Social Security strategy, he helps clients and friends to articulate and achieve their financial goals. Ralph graduated from Rutgers University with a B.A. in Economics. Before joining the board of the Emmanuel Cancer Foundation in 2015, he helped small charities finance advertising space on digital media and initiated fundraising efforts.

Lisa Forzani

Doctor of Chiropractic, Forzani Family Chiropractic Center

Dr. Lisa A. Forzani, D.C., C.M.E., has been in private practice as a chiropractor for over 20 years. An honors graduate of Life University in Marietta, Georgia, Dr. Forzani is an expert in laser therapy for pain management. She is also a Certified Medical Examiner for the Department of Transportation. She prides herself in combining both the holistic health care approach of chiropractic care with the newest and most innovative technologies available to private practice. In addition to serving on the board of the Emmanuel Cancer Foundation, she has been a volunteer with the Ladies Auxiliary of Manasquan Hook and Ladder for over 10 years. Dr. Forzani is married and has four children. In 1996, her daughter, Sabriana Alexis, was diagnosed with cancer and passed away one year later. The Emmanuel Cancer Foundation was instrumental in assisting her family through this very tragic time.

Jonathan Kanarek

Director of Analysis, Global Credit Services

Jonathan Kanarek began serving on the board of trustees for the Emmanuel Cancer Foundation in 2015 and currently chairs its Strategic Planning Committee. Jonathan’s interest in joining ECF was sparked by his wife Allison’s several years of involvement with the foundation and his befriending of a young cancer patient at an ECF event who has since passed away.

Jonathan is a Vice President – Senior Analyst in the Corporate Finance Group at Moody’s Investors Service. Jonathan concentrates on the healthcare sector, covering high yield credits. He focuses on credit analysis in medical devices, contract development & manufacturing organizations (CDMOs), and other healthcare services companies. Throughout his career, Jonathan has covered several other industries, including supermarkets, drugstores, food distributors, drug wholesalers, foodservice companies, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, and has several years of both credit and equity research experience.

Jonathan graduated from Indiana University with a B.S. in Finance and a minor in Psychology. He received his MBA from NYU-Stern with concentrations in Corporate Finance and Real Estate and is also a CFA charterholder.

John F. Kwasnik

Attorney at Law, Mezzaca & Kwasnik, LLC

Mr. Kwasnik, a Managing Partner with the law firm of Mezzacca and Kwasnik, LLC concentrates his practice in the areas of real estate, trust and estates, community association law, land use, civil litigation, commercial transactions and corporate law. He is actively involved with civic duty and volunteering, and counted among his many active memberships in organizations are: the Rahway Police Athletic League and the VSA Arts of New Jersey, Inc., where he serves on the Board of Directors, the Rutgers University Alumni Association, and the Children’s Specialized Hospital Softball Tournament, which he co-chairs.

Robert Mecca

Head of Finance, R&D and M&A, Bristol-Myers Squibb

Mike Walsh

Financial Advisor/Managing Director, Ameriprise

Mike was introduced to ECF by its co-founder Joe Vizzoni in 1992 and immediately got involved in organizing the ECF’S first golf outing. He previously served on ECF’S Board Of Trustees from 1997 to 2003 including serving as Board President.  He is also a long-time member and past President of The Friendly Sons Of St. Patrick Of Union County, has worked on various fund-raising committees for Roselle Catholic High School, and is a long-time supporter of the Disabled American Vets.

Mike has worked as a financial advisor for forty years and currently works in Ameriprise Financial Services’ Bedminster, N.J. office.

David Zimmel

President and Co-founder of Zimmel Associates

David Zimmel, President and Co-founder of Zimmel Associates, leads an Edison, New Jersey, corporate real estate brokerage firm that handles more than 5 million sq. ft. of exclusive office, industrial and flex space.  His career covers more than three decades dedicated to the real estate industry and the closing of more than 3,000 real estate transactions. A native of New Jersey, Dave began his real estate career in 1978 after graduating from Rider College with a degree in Political Science. He specialized in office, industrial and shopping center space for eight years before partnering with his father, Bernard Zimmel, at Zimmel Associates in the mid 1980’s.


Joel Markel

Life Member, Former Board Member
President/CEO, Preferred Home Health Care & Nursing Services

Joel Markel is the President/Owner of Preferred Home Health Care, a leading provider of medical and non-medical home health care in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He first became involved with the Emmanuel Cancer Fund (ECF) in 1990 when his five-month-old son, Ryan, was diagnosed with a malignant liver tumor. ECF provided help and support to Markel’s family during this time, which inspired them to remain involved with the organization even after Ryan’s death six months later. Markel has dedicated his life to caring for others, and he has helped raise awareness about issues such as children’s health, elder care and cancer treatment. He is a graduate of the City University of New York-Brooklyn College and is involved with a number of boards and organizations that promote home health care. Regarded as one of the leading home health care agencies in the region, PHHC fosters long-standing relationships with all local hospitals, which allows the company to have a keen understanding of home care complexities and enables it to deliver optimal care to all of its clients. Additionally, PHHC has been publicly certified by CHAP (Community Health Accreditation Program), the leading accrediting organization for the home health care industry, as voluntarily achieving the highest standards of excellence for home-based health care. The company is also active in a number of educational and service initiatives, including a partnership with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Joseph & Susan Vizzoni


Sue and Joe Vizzoni are the founders of ECF. Please read more about them by going to ‘About Us’ on the homepage and clicking on ‘Mission and History.’