Game Changer Women Of Grace Honors Leaders, Raises Money For Bethesda


By: Marisa Herman Associate Editor

More than 500 people packed the Delray Beach Marriott last month to recognize six local women who donate their time to local nonprofits.

The 19th Annual Women of Grace Luncheon took place on Nov. 5. Proceeds from the luncheon will benefit the Center for Pediatric Development, which offers children from newborns to adolescents a full range of quality rehabilitative services including Bethesda Health’s Intensive Feeding, the only feeding program in the southeast. Over $100,000 was raised.

The event opened with a reception where attendees tried their luck at various raffle items like staycations, vacations and golf outings.

When the doors to the ballroom opened, the honoring of the Women of Grace began.

In video presentations, the women and the nonprofit they spend their time volunteering at were introduced.

The 2018 Women of Grace Honorees were: Beth Schatman- Alzheimer’s Community Care; Gail Oliver- Gift of Life Marrow Registry; 2018 Future Woman of Grace: Isabella Diefendorf- American Heritage; Patricia Tormey- Forgotten Soldiers Outreach; Debralynn Belletieri- American Association of Caregiving Youth; and Deborah Dowd- Achievement Centers for Children & Families.

Beth Schatman is a licensed social worker who knows the challenges of caring for a loved one with dementia. Her husband was diagnosed with dementia and she was his caretaker.

She has brought her expertise to Alzheimer’s Community Care where she went from attending a support group to now running them for family members caring for a loved one with dementia.

“This is a continuation of my career,” she said. “I will continue to do this as long as possible. It’s very valuable to me.”

Gail Oliver was recognized for her volunteer work with Gift of Life, which works to get people to people to sign up for a bone marrow registry so those in need of a transplant have a better change of finding a match.

She became involved over 25 years ago when she read about Jay Feinberg who was seeking a match to help him battle leukemia. She has helped coordinate local drives and drives abroad. Most recently, she said, she participated in a drive in Jerusalem where a person in need found a match.

“No patient should die from a lack of a donor,” she said. “Just knowing you can save a life is an incredible feeling.”

Then, the crowd was introduced to the Future Woman of Grace, high school senior at American Heritage Isabella Diefendorf.

She is on a pre-law track and when she isn’t in the classroom she can be found training for her next triathlon. She combined her passion of competing with philanthropy by creating the Blackberry Foundation. She raises money to support the education and lives of the poor in her ancestral homelands of Tanzania and India.

“I am honored to be receiving this award,” she said. “The world seems big and unfixable but you don’t have to fix the whole world at once.”

The program then turned to Bethesda Hospital staff members who shared stories of patients that have been helped by the Center for Pediatric Development.

One shared a story of a premature baby who learned how to eat without a feeding tube thanks to Bethesda Health’s Intensive Feeding program. Another talked about a 4-year-old who had a feeding disorder because he was diagnosed as legally blind at 7 months old. He graduated from the program tasting foods happily last month.

And then a patient named Athena with muscular dystrophy discussed her experience at Bethesda with the crowd.

She said thanks to the staff she did her first sit up this year, rode a bike by herself and even joined her school’s volleyball team.

“I never thought I’d be able to accomplish these things,” she said.

Then, the final three Women of Grace were honored.

Patricia Tormey was recognized for the time she spends with Forgotten Soldiers Outreach.

“I want to be a part of this organization until the day I die,” she said. “This is my calling. This is where I need to be.”

Debralyn Belletieri received her nomination from the American Association of Caregiving Youth where she has volunteered for the past six years. She and her husband own Strikes@Boca bowling alley and she never says no to hosting the kids for an event.

“It makes you feel good to do things for other people,” she said. “I’m blessed to be involved in this organization.”

Finally, the retired teacher and master gardener Deborah Dowd was honored for the work with the Achievement Centers for Children and Families.

“The Achievement Center is my happy place,” she said. “I can come and be with the children that I love.”