Transforming Music Into a Means to Help | OCRA Heroes

Get inspired by these OCRA Heroes who have tapped into live music’s incredible power to bring people together and transformed it into support for Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance (OCRA). They have organized multiple benefit concerts, which provide a meaningful avenue to honor the memory of their loved ones who passed away from ovarian cancer. Event proceeds help to further OCRA’s work to cure the disease, improve treatments, and provide support to all those affected by gynecologic cancers.

Bonnie Harrell Memorial Benefit

“Bonnie Harrell was an amazing person who had a zest for life and love of music, especially local independent musicians,” said Scott Pitz, President of the Parrot Head Club of Tidewater, a 501(c)7 non-profit organization that Bonnie co-founded with her husband, Andy Harrell, in 1996. Known for her generous nature, Bonnie’s legacy of kindness lives on through the benefit concerts that are held in her memory. “Quite simply, Andy and I, and the Parrot Head Club of Tidewater, acted on Bonnie’s wishes that we start an event to raise awareness of ovarian cancer symptoms, treatments and research efforts,” Scott said.

Live Auction Item—Quilt made from a number of years of PHCOT club t-
shirts. Display models are John Stankiewicz (L) and Jeff Stewart ®.

After Bonnie passed away in 2010, organizing a day of music to benefit the ovarian cancer community seemed like the perfect way to both honor her request for raising awareness and celebrate her affinity for the local music scene in the Hampton Roads area. After all, charity and music are at the core of why the Parrot Head Club of Tidewater began in the first place, written right into the group’s mission statement that Scott shared. “Our non-profit organization is formed of people who realize they are blessed with abundant life and want to return to the community and the environment, in some small way the gifts we share, as well as provide a variety of social activities for people who share the enjoyment of Jimmy Buffett’s music.”

The first concert took place in 2011 and continued as an annual event through 2019. After a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the fundraiser returned in 2023 as the “10th Annual Bonnie Harrell Memorial Benefit” featuring musical performances, 50/50 raffles, and live and silent auctions.

“We were particularly blessed to have Peter Mayer, lead guitar player for Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band, and his son Brendan join us for the event,” said Scott, who co-chaired the benefit alongside Andy. Plenty of others also pitched in to make the fundraiser a success, including Kathy Jamerson and Annette Tuttle, who served as the basket raffle and live auction coordinators, and Cappy Harrell and John and Diana Stankiewicz, who acted as the 50/50 raffle coordinators. “We had two wonderful business partners for this year’s event,” added Scott, noting that Big Woody’s Raw Bar & Grill in Chesapeake, Virginia, hosted the event and donated a portion of sales from the day, and David Womick from Buttermaker, LLC (a franchise owner of several Firehouse Subs stores) also stepped up as a sponsor.

“We hope that our support over the years has contributed to OCRA’s mission of finding a cure and helping people that have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer,” Scott said. “We know from firsthand experience the toll that battling this terrible disease takes on the individual fighting and their families and caregivers.”

La Sorella: Rock for Jami

Jack Dubnicek has also turned to music to make a difference for the ovarian cancer community. “After my sister died, I was feeling helpless and angry and I wanted to do something positive,” he explained. What followed was the concept for the benefit concert known as “La Sorella: Rock for Jami,” which first took place in 2016 in memory of Jack’s sister, Jamison “Jami” Dubnicek Manning. “My wife and I met in a band, and Jami had always liked hearing us play when she could.”

Organizer Kevin Murphy and attendee Dave Reidy

Focusing on a concert for that first fundraiser also meant that Jack and his wife, Kathrina Dubnicek, could call on a wide circle of friends to help—as many of them have also been involved with music in some capacity. “It seemed like tapping into those resources would enable us to pull together entertainment for the evening that would be affordable but also enjoyable for the crowd,” Jack noted. “We knew Jami’s passing would weigh heavily on that initial event and live music is a good way to engage the crowd in dancing and sing-alongs.”

Following that first event in 2016, Jack and Kathrina have since organized three more benefit concerts, registered La Sorella as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, and brought on an additional board member, Kevin Murphy, to help. Jack’s words of advice for others who are contemplating the idea of putting on a fundraiser is to “just go for it” as they will likely find that many people will be willing to contribute in some way. Jack has experienced this generosity firsthand from family, friends and the larger community when organizing the benefit concerts in memory of his sister. Held at various venues throughout Downers Grove, Illinois, the events typically feature two or three bands playing music that has ranged from rock to pop to country, with food provided to attendees and open bar options offered as well. In addition, there is a silent auction component that was added as a way to raise even more money to further the work of Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance.

“We hope our support of OCRA can help find a cure for ovarian cancer so that no other families need to feel the pain of losing a sister, a mother, a daughter, an aunt, or a friend,” Jack said. “It’s hard for me to put into words the impact [Jami] had on those around her as it was immense. We reveled in her creativity and how she discovered something special in each of us and made our individuality foundational to her relationships with us. She saw us as and loved us for who we are – and that was enough.”

Posted on in Community