Who We Are

Sponsors, Hosts and Advisory Committee
Finding One Another is a Tails of Hope Foundation program. Tails of Hope is a New York-based non-profit dedicated to elevating the human-animal bond and advancing the fields of veterinary and human medicine through a comparative medicine approach focusing on eradicating cancer and other life-threatening diseases affecting companion animal, civilian and military working K9s, and people.

Tails of Hope pioneers new approaches by identifying gaps in services and creating programs to address these gaps. The program does this by bringing together committed teams of individuals, many of whom have received numerous individual awards and recognition for their work domestically and internationally, and recognized organizations, including preeminent veterinarians and human medical experts, companion animal and K9 organizations, acclaimed artists, educators, business and nonprofit professionals, lawyers, trauma specialists, and the public.

The tribute events will be hosted by United Nations Goodwill Ambassador (ret) Meera Gandhi, CEO of Giving Back Foundation.

The project’s Advisory Committee includes veterinary and human medical experts, SAR volunteers, acclaimed artists, educators, business, trauma and non-profit professionals, many of whom served at the 9/11 sites, all of whom are dedicated to honoring the canine/human partnership.

Steering Committee

Linda Blick, MSW, Founding Board Member, Tails of Hope Foundation, Co-Chair

Cynthia M. Otto, DVM, PhD, DACVECC (Disaster Veterinary Medicine Advisor), UPenn School of Veterinary Medicine, PA, International Working Dog Conference, Co-Chair and VMAT at 9/11

Meera Gandhi, Founder, Giving Back Foundation, NY, Gala Host

LeeMarie Dell’Accio, Director of Marketing, Palisades Center, NY, Marketing

Penny Sullivan, Founder, Ramapo Rescue Dog Association, NJ, SAR at 9/11

Tim Sullivan, Chief Palisades Parks, State Park Commission, NY, SAR at 9/11

John Cimino, Founder, Creative Leaps International, NY, Education and Artistic Director, 9/11 Performer

Jeffrey Paul Helsdon, Oldfield & Helsdon, PLLC, WA, Consultant and Producer

Rhonda Smith, President Words and Pictures Creative Service, Inc., NJ, Ad Campaign

Advisory Committee


Linda Blick, MSW (Co-Chair) is a Founding Board Member of Tails of Hope Foundation, Inc. She is a social worker and trauma specialist with nearly 40 years of experience. Ms. Blick has served as an international consultant and trainer on domestic violence projects, hosted professional visitors from more than 15 countries, trained over 50,000 professionals and citizens world-wide and secured funding for a trauma program benefitting NYC school children impacted by 9/11. She has produced and published ground-breaking products for various pioneering fields and chaired the first White House Conference on Child Sexual Abuse. Ms. Blick received a medal for her service to The United States Army from General Jack Woodall, Pacific Rim. A life long lover of animals, Ms. Blick helped found Tails of Hope Foundation so as to bring her experience in trail-blazing (pioneering) for underserved audiences to the lives of companion animals. Ms. Blick is the Founder of Tails of Hope’s recently launched Pediatrics and Pets: Coping with Cancer Together pilot project funded by Newman’s Own Foundation.

Cynthia M. Otto, DVM, PhD, DACVECC (Disaster Veterinary Medicine Advisor) (Co-Chair) is a board-certified emergency and critical care veterinarian and a tenured associate professor of Critical Care at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Otto has been involved in disaster medicine as a member of the Pennsylvania Urban SAR Task Force 1 from 1994 to 2010 during which time she served at Hurricane Floyd and 9/11. Since 1999 she has served on Veterinary Medical Assistance Team-2 and was deployed to Hurricane Katrina. She has been monitoring the health and behavior of Urban SAR canines since October of 2001 through an AKC-CHF funded grant.

Meera Teresa Gandhi (Founder) is a well known international community leader, committed humanitarian and philanthropist dedicated to solutions to human suffering and deprivation around the globe. She is CEO of The Giving Back Foundation and Former Goodwill Ambassador to CISRI-IGO with UN ECOSOC. For the past 25 years Ms. Gandhi has been involved with numerous women and children’s causes around the world, serving on the boards of FERI (The Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute), ERVK, (The Eleanor Roosevelt Center at Val-Kill), Safety Net (for battered women), Parham (education for street children of India), Children’s Hope (underprivileged children in NY) among others. Ms. Gandhi has an MBA from Boston University and a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Delhi. She has been recognized with numerous awards and honors including the 2007 Fulbright Humanitarian award.

Jeffrey Paul Helsdon, (Producer) has served as the Delegate to the American Kennel Club from the Doberman Pinscher Club of America (DPCA), as well as Legislative Director, Corresponding Secretary and Board Member for the DPCA. He conceived of, organized, wrote and directed the national event celebrating the Centennial Year of the Doberman Pinscher in the United States in 2008 (www.dpca.org). The Centennial Committee, which Jeff formed and led, flew World War II Marine War Dog Handlers from the South Pacific campaign to Topeka, Kansas for a special ceremony at which they were honored. At the ceremony, a document he drafted entitled “Convention on Cooperation Among American Working Dog Organizations” was signed by national working dog organizations and presented to the Deputy Director for the Office of Bombing Prevention with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Jeff is currently Vice Chancellor of the Olympia Diocese of the Episcopal Church of the United States and an attorney practicing business reorganizations, business litigation and real estate law in Gig Harbor, WA. In 2009, the Doberman Pinscher Club of America awarded Jeff the DPCA Lifetime Achievement Award, their highest and most prestigious honor.

John Cimino, (Founder and Education and Artistic Director) is president of Creative Leaps International. Educated at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the State University of New York, and the Manhattan and Juilliard Schools of Music, Mr. Cimino, who is also an award-winning operatic and concert performer, holds a uniquely interdisciplinary perspective and works across a variety of disciplines dedicated to learning and human development. As a champion of the arts in business, education and professional life, Cimino has brought his innovative programs into projects of the White House, the Center for Creative Leadership and dozens of Fortune 500 companies and universities. Most notably for us, John Cimino and two of his team from Creative Leaps International performed a special concert on site at Ground Zero for police, fire and rescue workers and a crowd of several hundred friends and family members the evening of November 11th, 2001. A sea of hand-held candles lit the chilly night air as the performers held forth from the flatbed of a semi-trailer, grand piano and voices lifted in songs of thanks, courage and encouragement.

Tavis Dockwiller is the principal landscape architect and guiding influence for viridian landscape studio (www.viridianls.com). viridian develops a site’s unique sense of place by understanding its history and reflecting it in fresh, creative ways that heal ecological systems and make places for people. Galvanizing this process Tavis provides strategic counsel to organizations based on their long-term objectives advocating for full client and stakeholder participation. As a result her work is built from an understanding of long-term strategy and strengthened by client investment in design and land stewardship. Her latest accomplishment is the 2011 publication of High Performance Landscape Guidelines, 21st Century Parks for New York City, for which she was a primary author. The sustainability guidelines for the city’s 29,000 acres of parkland are already causing a paradigm shift in the way New York parks are conceived, built, and maintained. Tavis firmly believes problem-solving should be fun; client-consultant teams can make a difference to the world both socially and environmentally; and design solutions should be practical and lyrical.

Ernestine Picone is Branch Manager, Assistant Vice President of Citizens Bank, Newburgh, New York. As a member of the Board of Directors for Tails of Hope Foundation, Ms. Picone has been instrumental in obtaining Citizens Bank’s sponsorship of various Tails of Hope projects including the Jack & Jill Rappaport National Public Awareness Campaign (2007 – present), the 2007 Meditation Garden Dedication Ceremony at Advanced Veterinary Cancer Care Center Newburgh, NY, the 2008 photography exhibition “Pets and Cancer: Living, Surviving, ThrivingSM” and Riding to the Rescue, Saving Pets Live event in partnership with WellPoint, Inc., the 2009 Pediatric and Pets Cancer Outreach Program: Coping with Cancer Together and the 9/11 10th Anniversary Tribute to the SAR Community.

Annie Brody is Founder and Director of Camp Unleashed which organizes educational retreats in nature for dogs and their people. Educated at Cornell University’s School of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Ms. Brody is a marketing and communications strategist with thirty years experience in book publishing, curricula development, special sales, merchandising, and film and video production. As Executive Director of the Children’s Earth Fund, she organized the first national, coordinated campaign of children’s environmental action focused on educating adults about global warming and forged a media partnership with Nickelodeon TV.

Rhonda V. Smith is President and Creative Director of Words and Pictures Creative Service, Inc., a New Jersey advertising agency co-founded in 1987 with partner Wesley Shaw. Rhonda has garnered numerous regional and national awards for copywriting excellence and creativity for such clients as The Valley Hospital, Rockland Community College, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Overlook Hospital, Northfield Foods, Eight O’Clock Coffee, Wurlitzer Jukebox, SANS Inc., and Sony Electronics Inc. In keeping with their philanthropic philosophy, Words and Pictures has donated their time and creative services to United Way of Bergen County, American Red Cross, Children’s Aid and Family Services, Tails of Hope, SafetyNet, Youth Consultation Services and the Bergen County Task Force for Teenage Suicide Prevention. The public awareness campaign that they created for the Suicide Prevention Task Force received special commendations from the Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders and received national recognition.

Alana Marie Urda and Aubrey A. Daval are the Co-founders of Amalgamate Dance Company (ADC). The company’s repertoire has been presented nationally and internationally. ADC engages in dance with a purpose, conducts educational workshops, and produces groundbreaking projects in collaboration with charity organizations.

Donna Manderino, DVM, is owner/director of the Park Ridge Animal Hospital in Park Ridge NJ. Dr. Manderino received her DVM degree from Cornell University and is a board certified-Diplomate American Board of Veterinary Practitioners in Canine and Feline medicine. She is a past board member and current member of the NJVMA and NNJVMA, member of the AAHA and AVMA. Dr. Manderino served VMAT at the World Trade Center on Sept 25th, 2001 caring for search and rescue dogs.

LeeMarie Dell’Accio is the Director of Marketing for Palisades Center, in West Nyack, New York, the tenth largest shopping mall in the United States with over 250 retail establishments. LeeMarie began her career working in marketing for The Mills Corporation at The Shops at Riverside in NJ. She continued on to Pyramid Management Group as the Director of Marketing for The Galleria at Crystal Run in New York. LeeMarie holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with concentrations in Marketing, Public Relations, and Advertising from St. Joseph’s College. She is currently pursuing her MBA at Saint Thomas Aquinas College. She is an active member of the International Council of Shopping Centers and the New York/New Jersey Council of Shopping Centers.

Anne Hurwitt is the former owner of a consulting firm that provided strategic planning and other services to nonprofit organizations. For many years she held leadership positions with groups such as the NJ Association of Women Business Owners. As a volunteer counselor with SCORE, she helped individuals start and grow their businesses. Ms. Hurwitt is a NJ recipient of the SBA’s award, Women in Business Advocate. In her mid-40s, she graduated with honors from Rutgers University with a BA in Business Administration/Economics.

Nancy Katz, award-winning photographer of Teaneck, NJ, owns ZaZaCreative, LLC an event photography company. She also writes for North Jersey media, teaches and has co-curated several exhibits in the area. Nancy is a member of Professional Photographers of America (PPA) and Board Member of PPANJ (North jersey chapter) as well as an active volunteer member of Teaneck Festival of Arts and Teaneck International Film Festival.

Penny Sullivan is one of the pioneers of SAR volunteer groups in the United States and has over 39 years experience as a SAR dog handler, including the World Trade Center in 2001. She was a member of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Subcommittee on the Development of Search and Rescue Dog Criteria for Disaster Response. A microbiologist by profession, Penny was a founding member of the Ramapo Rescue Dog Association, one of the oldest SAR dog units in the country in 1971 and it’s President since 1978. She was also a founding member and President of the American Rescue Dog Association (ARDA) for many years and was an active member of the New Jersey Urban Search and Rescue Task Force One (NJ-TF1) from 2000-2008. Penny has taught at the National SAR School and testified as an expert witness in several prosecutions. She is the author of a number of professional publications about the SAR field and has made numerous presentations at symposia and conferences and to agencies and civic groups.

Tim Sullivan served for over 50 years as Chief Park Ranger of the Palisades Region of New York State Parks. He is a member of Ramapo Rescue Dog Association. He assisted during the 9/11 Staten Island Freshkills response for several days immediately following the September attacks. A former combat Marine, Tim has been involved with law enforcement for over 40 years. He has been a member of the Ramapo Rescue Dog Association for 30 years, having served as a dog handler, Secretary and Operational Leader and has also trained and instructed with the National SAR School. He has participated in numerous searches in the U.S. and Puerto Rico and has testified as an expert witness in a number of homicide prosecutions in which he was involved.

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