FOR RELEASE: 6/22/2011Contact: Jackie Keren, (203) 255-5300

More than 450 attend Rose of Hope Luncheon in Fairfield Actress Vanessa Williams urges diligence in breast cancer prevention

How many people can say they've had “Happy Birthday” sung to them by famous singer-actress Vanessa Williams in front of more than 450 people at a major fundraising event? Probably not many. But Bridgeport Hospital President and CEO Bill Jennings is one of them.

Williams led guests in a musical 44th birthday tribute to Jennings just after finishing the keynote speech at the Norma F. Pfriem Breast Care Center’s June 16 Rose of Hope Luncheon in Fairfield. The event supports the Center’s programs and services for patients and their families.

“I was amazed!” Jennings said afterward.

Rose of Hope Luncheon with speaker  Vanessa Williams

Norma F. Pfriem Breast Care Center Executive Director Donna Twist, Rose of Hope Luncheon speaker Vanessa Williams, Kristin Jennings and husband Bill Jennings, President and CEO of Bridgeport Hospital.

This year's Rose of Hope Luncheon was co-chaired by Linda Blackwell and Daneen Grabe of Fairfield, two members of the Breast Care Center’s President's Council.

“Kudos to Linda and Daneen for orchestrating a phenomenal luncheon,” Jennings said. “And I tip my hat to Breast Care Center Executive Director and Vice President of Development Donna Twist for arranging a birthday serenade that will never be equaled—at an event that we will always strive to equal.”

Williams, the award-winning recording artist and star of TV’s “Desperate Housewives” and “Ugly Betty” spoke about a close friend’s battle with breast cancer and about overcoming personal and career setbacks in her own life. She also had a health message for all women.

“My life lesson, my ‘a-ha’ moment, was that women, even young ones, must be vigilant and take care of their breast health—and please follow through with the treatment,” Williams said.

In addition, Williams praised the work of the Breast Care Center.

“You don’t know how lucky you are to have a place to go where you can find everything you need for the care of breast cancer,” Williams said. “The Norma F. Pfriem Breast Care Center is always just around the corner.”

Williams was introduced by Breast Care Center patient Natasha Jones of Bridgeport, a single mother and college student who had just spoken about her breast cancer journey.

“Thanks to the Norma F. Pfriem Breast Care Center, I’m here today,” said Jones. “The Center’s caregivers took stress away from a stressful situation. “Having breast cancer enlightened me. It made me want to be a better mother, provider, student, and friend. I’m hungry for life now. I’m a whole new person.” Jones added that the Breast Care Center staff helped her in other ways, too.

“They found grants to pay for my utilities when I couldn’t,” she said. “As much as I appreciated the financial help, they meant much more to me than that. I felt cared for and encouraged knowing that there were people out there willing to help, to offer support.”

Jones singled out the support provided by nurse and patient navigator Patricia Poniros. "Pat treated me—the whole person. She helped me more than I imagined. I never knew a nurse like that."

Another highlight of the luncheon was the presentation of Rose of Hope Awards to two other President's Council members, Donna Craft of Easton and Lynne Taikowski of Fairfield, for their support of the Center, including their role as co-chairs of many past Rose of Hope Luncheons.

“The Rose of Hope Luncheon is a chance for us to honor friends of the Center and to hear from women who have been touched by breast cancer,” says Twist. “This year’s luncheon exceeded all expectations. We heard from so many people who wanted to take part and listen to these inspirational stories. We are very fortunate to have so much support from the community.”

Part of the Norma F. Pfriem Cancer Institute at Bridgeport Hospital, the Norma F. Pfriem Breast Care Center has served more than 18,000 women and their families since it was established in 1999. A member of the prestigious National Consortium of Breast Care Centers, the Center provides a wide range of diagnostic care and treatment at its Bridgeport Hospital and Fairfield locations, including medical oncology, surgical and chemotherapy services, plastic surgery, mammography and radiation therapy, and genetic risk assessment as well as opportunities to participate in clinical trials.

The Breast Care Center office at 111 Beach Road in Fairfield provides comprehensive women’s wellness services, including nutrition counseling, massage and Reiki therapy, wig and prosthesis fitting, counseling, yoga, Pilates, naturopathic medicine and other patient support activities. The Center also has a satellite office on Park Avenue in Trumbull. For more information call (203) 255-5300 or visit the Center on the web at

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Part of Yale New Haven Health System, Bridgeport Hospital is a 383-bed acute care hospital (plus 42 beds licensed to Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital) serving parts of Fairfield and New Haven counties. The hospital admits more than 18,000 patients and receives more than 240,000 outpatient visits annually.