Keeping the dreams alive

Last modified: 7/22/2014 4:51:11 PM
During Jill E. Harrington Hanzalik’s far too brief life she was always a dreamer.

According to her brothers, Adam and Kevin Harrington, those dreams were not just empty thoughts. Jill worked hard to achieve her goals, something both brothers vividly recall about their sister.

But sitting down with them on Thursday on the deck at Crumpin-Fox Club in Bernardston on a picturesque spring morning, there was something more about their sister that both young men remembered. While she tried her best to make her own dreams come true, it was her passion to help others achieve theirs that may have been one of her finest qualities. So when their sister passed away suddenly in 2010, Adam Harrington started a foundation in her memory, Over the past four years, the Jill E. Harrington Hanzalik Memorial Fund has continued her legacy of helping others chase their dreams by donating nearly $200,000.

On June 20 & 21, the foundation will get a significant boost when Jason Dufner, one of the best golfers in the world and the reigning champion of the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) Championship, takes a break from his busy golfing schedule to host the Jill E. Harrington Hanzalik Memorial Golf Tournament, a two-day event taking place at Crumpin-Fox and Mount Snow Golf Course in West Dover, Vt.

The 37-year-old Dufner turned pro in 2000 and is currently ranked 15th in the world. He has three career wins on the PGA Tour, including the one major title: last year’s PGA Championship. Dufner said knowing how important the event is to his friend Adam Harrington helped him set aside time to host the event.

“Adam and I have been friends for a couple years and he has always talked about his event and what it means to him and all those involved,” Dufner said. “I have a break that weekend before playing the CVS Charity event in Rhode Island, so it makes sense to come over ... I am now in a position where it means something to give back and share my time and thoughts with others, and no better way to do that (than) to help raise some money for a great cause and to help a friend.”

Jill’s story

Jill Harrington was born to parents Wendy Dubois and Phil Harrington and raised in Bernardston along with her brothers. She graduated from Pioneer Valley Regional School in 1994 and went on to attend the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, where she majored in sports management and graduated in 1998. She used her degree to work for the NBA in its home office in New York City and also served as a personal assistant to Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, for three years.

In 2008, Jill met Joe Hanzalik and the two were married in 2009. Soon afterward, the two found out they were expecting a baby. Tragically, the 33-year-old mother suffered complications during the birth on April 26, 2010; she and the child, Chase Thomas Hanzalik, died minutes apart. The family later found out that she passed away from stage four colon cancer that hadn’t been diagnosed.

At the time of his sister’s passing, Adam Harrington was just wrapping up a professional basketball career that spanned from 2002-2010. It included a short stay in the NBA and multiple stops on the international level. As a way to deal with his grief, he decided to start a foundation in his sister’s memory.

“For me, it was all about continuing what my sister did for me,” he said. “My sister lived with me when I went to Auburn and when I played for Dallas. She’s also been to every country that I played in. She was the first person I called when I made the Mavericks and she was the first person I called when I got cut.”

He chuckled at a memory: “She always joked that she stayed in the NBA longer than me,” he said. Then, he turned serious again, “She always supported me. She was a really selfless person.”

Adam Harrington knew he wanted a way to memorialize his sister and he tossed around ideas. One included raising money to fight cancer, but that did not seem to him to be what his sister would have wanted.

“We decided we didn’t want it to be cancer driven,” he explained. “Cancer took my sister’s life. It was not a part of it. We really wanted to keep it positive. We looked at how we could impact kids right now.”

Thus the idea was hatched for the Chase Your Dreams initiative, inspired by the name of his sister’s son, as well as by what she stood for. The goal was help young people chase and achieve their dreams.

Building the foundation

The hardest part about starting a nonprofit organization is to sustain it, something the brothers were very concerned with from the onset. Both men were clear that they were in it for the long term.

“One of Adam’s visions early on was sustainability,” Kevin Harrington explained. “And Adam is a natural-born leader. You saddle up to him and let him take you for a ride.”

One person the brothers looked to for advice was Lisa Tyner, who works in accounting for the Dallas Mavericks and became best friends with Jill during her three years working as Cuban’s personal assistant. The two said she was crucial in helping grow the foundation. But what it ultimately came down to was the ability to raise money and for that Harrington hatched some ideas. The foundation has three major events each year: the Chase Your Dreams Basketball Classic, the Kringle Candle Chase, and the JEHH Memorial Golf Tournament.

The Basketball Classic is not much of a fundraiser because each of the eight schools that make up the tournament get $1,000 toward their athletic program. So, after giving out $8,000 from the event, it leaves little for the foundation. That’s just fine for the Harringtons, who said that giving back to the schools is a way to help the athletes achieve their dreams. The Kringle Candle Chase recently took place and attracted 530 racers, making it a successful fundraiser.

The foundation also accepts donations and one of its most famous sponsors is also one of the top basketball players in the world: Dallas Mavericks all-star Dirk Nowitzki, who donated $250 for every 3-point shot he made this season. Having sunk 131 3-pointers, he will cut a check to the foundation for $32,750.

And that is a prime example of how Adam Harrington has been able to aid in the growth of the foundation. The connections he has made through his playing career give him access to famous people in all walks of life, and he has used this to help raise money.

Duffing it

Adam Harrington and Dufner are both alums of Auburn University but that’s not where they met. Dufner was a senior at the school when Harrington first arrived on campus in 1999 following a transfer from North Carolina State, where Harrington played basketball his freshman year. He remembers hearing about the talented golfer on campus, but the two never met.

As it turned out, the two share a mutual friend who put the men in contact with one another. Dufner plays in the Travelers Championship in Hartford and Harrington went down to the event and met up with Dufner last season. Dufner signed a flag for Harrington’s silent auction at what was the upcoming 2013 JEHH Memorial Tournament, and Harrington broached the subject of perhaps getting Dufner to attend. Due to his busy schedule, Dufner had to decline, but he did not forget about it. The two became friends and Dufner wound up reaching out to Harrington, asking him when the 2014 Golf Tournament was taking place. This year, Dufner has the weekend off before he heads to Rhode Island for the charity event on Sunday, and will be in Franklin County to host the multiple events. It should come as no surprise that Dufner is helping a charity. He and his wife, Amanda, started the Jason Dufner Charitable Foundation and one of the organizations they help fund is the Blessings in a Backpack progam, a national nonprofit that targets childhood hunger.

Golf weekend

The JEHH Memorial Golf Tournament is a two-day affair that begins on Friday, June 20, at Crumpin-Fox Club in Bernardston. The first event of the weekend is the Skins Game, hosted by Dufner. A skins game is an event in which players compete for prize money on each individual hole. It is open to the first 70 people who sign up and begins at 1 p.m. The day starts off with a private 45-minute skills clinic and question-and-answer session with Dufner. Afterward, the individuals will take part in a nine-hole skins game. All this costs $500, but $250 of that goes back into the skins pool, which will be distributed among the winners.

“The 45-minute clinic will be a great way for those who attend to get up close and personal with a PGA Tour player,” Dufner said. “They will have the opportunity to watch me hit some shots, ask questions about my game, how I do things, what I think about on the golf course, etc. It’s just a nice way for golf fans to really pick the mind of someone who plays on the PGA Tour.”

The cost of the Skins Game also includes admission into Friday night’s event: the Gala and Silent Auction at Alumni Hall on the campus of Northfield Mount Hermon School. Dufner will host the Gala and Silent Auction, which costs $100 per ticket, and includes an open bar as well as “heavy appetizers.” The Harringtons plan four food stations from around the world and a dessert bar and said that no one will leave hungry. There will be live entertainment, a video presentation and a silent auction.

The silent auction prizes are substantial. Harrington currently works as a trainer with Kevin Durant, who was recently named the National Basketball Association’s Most Valuable Player. Durant donated a signed game-worn jersey and shoes. The auction also includes signed sneakers from two-time NBA champ and four-time most valuable player Lebron James. There will be concert tickets to see Beyonce and Jay Z, and Justin Timberlake. There will be skiing getaways, Gucci apparel, and other items. Perhaps the most unique item being auctioned is a chance to sit next to actor and producer Mark Wahlberg for the Boston movie premiere of “Transformers: Age of Extinction.”

The second day of the tournament takes place at the Mount Snow Golf Course in West Dover, Vt., and will again be hosted by Dufner. That day includes a four-player scramble with lunch and dinner. The cost was $500 per team of four. Limited to 40 teams, it sold out in just eight days. For more information on the weekend, go to

Giving back

When it comes to giving money to nonprofit charities, it’s important to note how much of the money donated is actually given back. Kevin Harrington is the executive director of the foundation and the brothers said that roughly 85 cents of every dollar raised is donated, with the other 15 percent going toward the costs associated with running the charity, including marketing and advertising.

To date, the foundation has awarded over $185,000 in individual grant money, ranging from $250 to $5,000 in grants. And while the organization does help people from all over the country achieve their dreams, a large portion of the awards have been right here in Franklin County. The largest local project undertaken to date was what the brothers call the Community Project; it included refurbishing the basketball and tennis courts at Bernardston Elementary School for roughly $50,000.

“It was a way for us to do something for the community we grew up in,” Kevin Harrington said.

There are other stories, including multiple examples on the foundation’s website. And both men stressed that while it is easy to associate the Harrington name with sports, the foundation has a broader mission.

“We are not just about sports, we are about the arts, music and culture,” Kevin Harrington explained. “There are so many reasons why kids are not active. We want them to know that there is something in place to help them chase their dreams.”

And it does not always take a great deal of money to make realize these dreams. Take the example of Montague Elementary School, which needed help repairing a flute and clarinet, two of the most sought after instruments in the music department. The foundation awarded a $750 grant to repair both. Another request came from the Newbrook Elementary School in Newfane, Vt., which began offering after-school enrichment programs for 145 students. The programs included yoga, karate, knitting, pottery and art classes. The school also wanted to offer basketball and raised $3,000 on its own to build a court that would not only benefit the after-school program, but the community as a whole. The foundation picked up the tab for the remaining $3,500 needed to get it built.

The brothers stressed that when it comes to schools, they do believe that there are certain things that the athletic department should pay for, such as uniforms and equipment. But, they do help out. For example, they helped purchase extra football helmets at Turners Falls High School and may help out with the schools’ hockey program, which is otherwise completely funded by the hockey boosters at the school.

There are some other limits. The foundation does not pay for medical bills because, as the brothers said, that would be an unlimited expense. They also said that when they receive actual letters from the student or students who will be affected by a grant, they are more apt to give.

“We always wanted to maintain quality and our goal was to be able to say ‘yes’ more than ‘no,’” Kevin Harrington said.“We look at all the applications and we ask if it fits our mission.

“And we encourage children to write in to us,” he continued. “I wanted people to be encouraged to reach out to us.”

The foundation is exactly what Adam Harrington envisioned when he created it shortly after his sister’s passing. It began as a way for a grieving brother to create something positive after a tragedy and has grown into something that has touched lives in our community and all over the world. It sounds exactly like the kind of thing that would have made Jill E. Harrington Hanzalik proud.

To find out more about the foundation, donate or apply for a grant, visit

Staff reporter Jason Butynski covers sports for The Recorder. He can be reached at or 413-772-0261, ext. 256.

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