A healthy relationship occurs when participants have clearly defined, shared responsibilities.
Who gets the responsibility, however, sometimes depends on who is doing the defining.
When Terry Vick and his wife Nicole Matsoukas were asked to chair this year’s Tux 'n' Trees, the gala finale of the Festival of Trees celebration benefiting CARTI, Matsoukas was quick to sign off on the list of tasks and responsibilities that come with the job, which includes performing a speaker’s role.
Vick pointed out a little later that the crowd would number more than 800 and asked Matsoukas if she realized that.
“Yes,” she said, “but it’s OK as you are going to do all the speaking.”
Hey, when you’re organizing a fundraising bash, you have to delegate, and the couple is sharing the rest of their duties more or less equally.
“Being asked to chair the event with my wife is quite the honor,” says Vick, executive vice president and chief lending officer at long-time CARTI sponsor Arkansas Federal Credit Union (AFCU). “Nicole and I care deeply for CARTI and want to represent well by exceeding the fundraising goals. It’s also our biggest fear as we don’t want to let the organization and the patients it serves down by not raising the funds that we hope to.”
Festival of Trees supports CARTI’s cancer-fighting mission by raising funds for its Patient Assistance Programs. Along with providing the basic necessities of food, gas and lodging vouchers for patients in treatment and their families, the programs include counseling, nutritional support, oncology massages and retreats for patients and caregivers.
“It’s not always easy asking others to donate money and especially during some of the times we’ve been recently enduring,” says Matsoukas, who works near Vick as AFCU’s senior vice president and chief information officer. “Many people and businesses have been struggling due to various situations brought on by the pandemic and recent inflation. We’re really asking people to dig deep during these times.”
The Festival of Trees is a triple-headed, three-day event that includes the father-daughter Sugar Plum Ball, Festival of Fashion show and Tux 'n' Trees gala, which allows people to bid on donated, artistic-themed Christmas trees. The festival has raised more than $9 million for CARTI since its inception 46 years ago.
“By the time you leave, you are definitely in the Christmas spirit,” Vick says, “It’s an awesome time.”
It’s possible Vick and Matsoukas, who met at their place of business, were meant to end up together.
They certainly started out on the same side of the figurative street and have walked similar paths at times. Each is an Army brat who was born in Texas and moved around, sometimes internationally, before settling in Arkansas.
Vick has lived in Canada and Arizona, went to high school in Anchorage, Alaska, and Michigan’s Baker College, where he earned his MBA. Matsoukas lived in Germany where she started school at age 5, but with her father retiring to Arkansas, that’s where she has spent most of her time, attending high school at the former North Pulaski High in Jacksonville.
She recalls picking up the German language as a youngster overseas and translating for her mother when they went to the local shops.
“Unfortunately though, now I can only remember how to count to 10,” Matsoukas says.
While Vick earned his business degree before entering the workforce, Matsoukas graduated high school early, worked in retail and then joined the AFCU as a part-time teller when she was 17.
She took college courses in the evening and earned her bachelor’s in business management from Park University, working her way up to her current position at AFCU.
The couple live in west Little Rock and have two children, Sydnie, working toward her master’s in speech pathology at Harding University; and Jake, recently graduated from Harding, recently married and living in Fayetteville with his wife Rebecca.
Vick and Matsoukas have nurtured an interest in philanthropy and volunteerism. In addition to supporting CARTI, they are involved with JDRF, the world’s largest nonprofit diabetic relief foundation, which is of special interest to Matsoukas because of her own experience with Type 1 diabetes.
Vick joined the CARTI Foundation in 2012 after hearing “incredible things” about its work with cancer patients and the CARTI Patient Assistance Programs. A golfer who admittedly is always working on his game, he served on and then chaired the CARTI Golf Committee, chaired the CARTI Foundation, joined the CARTI Operations Board and has chaired that since 2021.
“The goal is to make it easier for those that need treatment without the need to drive hours for this type of care,” Vick says of the patient assistance programs. “It’s awesome that we have such a great organization that specializes in this type of care within Arkansas.”
CARTI Foundation Executive Director Jennifer Selig praised Vick’s leadership during a strategic growth period and says the couple’s Festival of Trees co-chairmanship was a natural fit.
“They have chosen to lead the effort this year because of their strong belief in CARTI, our mission and the difference we make for those fighting cancer,” Selig says.
Sooner or later during Festival of Trees, sometimes more than once, people are asked to stand or provide a show of hands if they have been touched by cancer in some way, whether personally or through a loved one. It’s a compelling, humanizing moment, and the number of people is usually striking.
Likewise, Vick and Matsoukas didn’t just spontaneously come in off the street to help CARTI — they have had personal experiences with cancer that have helped them see the value of what the organization does.
Matsoukas recalls Feb. 18, 2019, when she received a call from a friend and co-worker she’d known for 20 years. He was in the hospital being tested for cancer and was soon diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer, dying less than four months later.
“I’ve known many other family members and friends who have had to struggle with cancer — some with great success, but this was a tragic story,” Matsoukas says. “One that really changed how I looked at cancer screenings and prevention. My interest in CARTI stems from the very unfortunate fact that we will all be impacted in some way at some point, so I like the idea of putting my support behind an organization that is extremely committed to not only the best care and treatment, but also the very best technology.”
Vick has also known co-workers stricken with cancer who have been treated at CARTI and raved about their care. But as he was speaking with Soirée, his mother was seeing one of the CARTI surgeons about a stomach mass and receiving tests.
“While we are hopeful that it will be benign, I know that she is in very capable hands and trusts the physicians and staff wholeheartedly,” he says.
With 18 locations in 15 communities, CARTI has been Arkansas’ leader in cancer care since its founding in 1976. The medical, surgical and radiation oncologists, diagnostic radiologists and additional medical providers deliver some of the world’s most advanced forms of cancer care in a patient-centered environment.
“We believe treatment should be close to home and as convenient as possible,” Selig says.
In May 2021, CARTI announced plans to expand the Little Rock campus with an on-site surgery center. Located next to the flagship cancer center on CARTI Way in Little Rock, the CARTI Surgery Center will be the organization’s second-largest construction project since the cancer center’s completion in 2015. Construction is expected to wind up in the spring.
Selig described the surgery center as the next logical step in CARTI’s efforts to transform cancer care in the state, improving patient experience and outcomes with an even more convenient and comprehensive alternative.
“With a singular focus on compassionately treating cancer in the most technologically-advanced surgical setting, the CARTI Surgery Center will be unlike anything currently available in the region,” Selig says.
At Tux 'n' Trees, the black tie gala that caps off Festival of Trees, it is not uncommon to see someone issue a challenge from the stage, and to see people respond with donations in an impromptu fundraiser that augments the proceeds and money already raised.
The event usually draws around 800, and while the Tux 'n' Trees goal is $250,000 this year, Selig said proceeds for the entire Festival of Trees are anticipated to exceed $500,000.
“This year, the theme is centered around ‘believe,’” Vick says. “The word ‘believe’ has that Christmas inspiration, but also translates into a higher cause such as ‘believing in the generosity of others, believing in a cure, believing in CARTI.’”
Matsoukas says that to her, the Festival of Trees signals the start of the holiday season. And why not? It’s truly a holiday- and winter-themed spectacle.
“From the absolutely adorable little girls all dressed up for the Sugar Plum Ball and the New York-feel of the runway at Festival of Fashion to the formal festivity of Tux 'n' Trees, there is definitely something for everyone,” Matsoukas says.
“For me, it’s how fast the time has gone since being asked to chair and how soon it’s coming up,” Vick says. “Overall, the CARTI Auxiliary and the foundation staff have made it easy thus far. They have coordinated many of our tasks and have been very easy to work with. We are very grateful for their assistance during this journey.”
Cancer, Matsoukas says, is one of the hardest words for people to hear, so being able to help victims and their families by chairing the event, contributing however she can, means a great deal.
It’s why she surprised even herself when she agreed so quickly to accepting the co-chairmanship responsibilities. Even if it did mean Vick was going to get stuck with the speaking part.
“I wasn’t really sure what co-chairing the event would consist of, but when asked, I did feel honored immediately,” Matsoukas says. “It felt like such a privilege to be a part of something so much bigger than yourself. I’m actually a very introverted person, so I shocked myself, and Terry, when I said ‘yes’ right away.”
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