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Donielle Deitz at a Relay For Life event.
Donielle Deitz at a Relay For Life event.
Volunteering & Giving
March 28, 2017

A team member’s passion for fighting cancer

Wells Fargo team member Donielle Deitz shares her personal mission to fight cancer through her volunteer efforts with the American Cancer Society.

Donielle Deitz was devastated when she learned that her best friend, Shelli DeSimone, had been diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 36.

“Shelli and I became best friends after we moved from the Midwest to Florida in 1983 to work as tellers for Florida National Bank,” Deitz said. “She was just 19 and I was 20, and we quickly became each other’s family, since our own families were thousands of miles away. During our 28 years of friendship, we experienced marriages, divorces, the birth of her son, family deaths, and moves, but the most difficult challenge was when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.”

But Deitz and her friends decided to take action. They would fight back by raising awareness for breast cancer research, advocacy, and services for patients. “Shelli moved back to Ohio for her treatment so she could be close to her family, and I wanted to find a way to help while living over 1,000 miles away from her,” Deitz said.

Deitz and her group of friends first participated in the American Cancer Society Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk. That’s when Deitz realized she wanted to become even more involved. A friend who worked for the American Cancer Society recommended Deitz participate in its Relay For Life fundraising event, in which volunteer teams spend up to 24 hours taking turns walking around a track or designated path to show that cancer never sleeps.

“I went to the first meeting and before I left I was on the event committee,” Deitz said. “I’ve never left. It’s become my passion.”

Today, more than 16 years after learning of her friend’s diagnosis, Deitz is the volunteer co-chair of American Cancer Society’s National Relay For Life Leadership Team. In this role, she represents the organization’s six regions across the U.S. and more than 2 million volunteers.

“I don’t have kids so this is what I put my energy into,” said Deitz, a Wells Fargo learning and development facilitator in Orlando, Florida. “Instead of being at an event for my kids, I’m at a Relay For Life event. It’s meant even more to me because of my friend Shelli’s diagnosis.”

In her current role as co-chair for the national leadership team, Deitz works closely with national staff members to create and support a three-year strategic plan for developing volunteer training, increasing relevancy in communities, and supporting areas of growth.

“The American Cancer Society is a volunteer-led, staff-supported organization, and they truly value the voice of their volunteers,” Deitz said. “Being in this position allows me to provide a voice for what local, grassroots volunteers do.”

‘I told her I would keep fighting for her’

While Deitz has continued her work with the American Cancer Society, her best friend — and inspiration for her involvement — lost her battle with cancer in September 2011. “Before Shelli passed away, I told her I would keep fighting for her,” Deitz said.

Deitz has watched other family, friends, and teammates at Wells Fargo battle cancer. “In 2016, my teammate lost her husband to cancer,” she said. “It is my mission to continue to fight in his and Shelli’s memory.”

Shelli DeSimone, left, and American Cancer Society volunteer Donielle Deitz.
Shelli DeSimone, left, and Donielle Deitz.

In 2015, the American Cancer Society awarded Deitz the Florida Distinguished Service Award for her years of volunteer service. The award — the highest at the local level — is presented annually to volunteers in recognition of their contributions to the fight against cancer.

“In my lengthy career in the nonprofit sector, I have never encountered a more impressive group of volunteers than those at the American Cancer Society. And among those hundreds of thousands of super talented volunteers I've been fortunate enough to work with, Donielle is at the very top,” said Glenn Callihan, vice president of Community Engagement for the American Cancer Society’s Florida Division. “She is smart, cool under pressure, and truly operates with what is best for the organization as her guide. She's one in a million, and I count myself lucky to have had the chance to work with her.”

‘Everyone has the opportunity to make a difference’

In 2016, 1,419 Wells Fargo team members volunteered 15,327 hours to support the American Cancer Society. Deitz volunteered more than 200 of those hours.

“Donielle’s involvement with the American Cancer Society is a perfect example of our Wells Fargo team members using their skills, interests, and excitement to create change,” said Melissa Buchanan, Community Affairs program manager for Wells Fargo. “Tens of thousands of Wells Fargo team members have found organizations that are important to them and can benefit from their time and talent to further their causes. It is a true privilege to support our team members who personally dedicate so much to great organizations like the American Cancer Society.”

Wells Fargo team members receive up to 16 hours of paid work time a year to volunteer in their communities. Deitz said she uses every minute of that time — and more — to volunteer with the American Cancer Society. Since 2009, she has earned seven $1,000 Wells Fargo Volunteer Service Awards, which recognize team members for their service, to support the American Cancer Society’s programs, services, research, and advocacy.

“Knowing that Wells Fargo is supportive of team members giving back in the community is important to me,” Deitz said.

In 2010, Deitz was awarded a week of paid time off through Wells Fargo’s Volunteer Leave program to volunteer as a camp counselor for the American Cancer Society’s former R.O.C.K (Reaching out to Cancer Kids) Camp.

Deitz said she dedicates so much of her time because she has seen firsthand what fundraising dollars and volunteer efforts can accomplish. She has driven cancer patients to and from treatments through the Road to Recovery program, cooked for patients staying at a Hope Lodge while they receive treatment away from home, and seen her best friend benefit from these and other programs.

“If I’m raising money, I want to say it’s going to make a difference,” Deitz said. “I have to believe in it. I truly believe in the American Cancer Society’s mission: freeing the world from cancer. Cancer impacts many people, not just patients. Everyone has the opportunity to make a difference, regardless of income, background, or community.”

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