Joshua Bienko, assistant professor in the School of Art, was recently named Man of the Year for being the top fundraiser for the Knoxville Chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS).
He was honored for bringing in $17,048 of the $142,760 the local chapter raised during its recent 10-week campaign.
Bienko got involved with the LLS after his mother died of acute myeloid leukemia almost 19 years ago.
After donating one of his paintings for last year’s LLS auction, he wanted to become more involved.
“It’s something I’ve always hoped to have some kind of interaction with,” Bienko said. “This competition gave me that opportunity.”
Bienko hosted events across the city and received contributions and donations from local businesses, restaurants, and schools.
“The School of Art faculty, staff, and students were especially generous,” he said.
Having lived in New York for much of his life, attended graduate school at the University of Georgia, and taught at Texas A&M University, Bienko has friends and colleagues across the country—and he reached out to many of them to help support the campaign.
Much of his time was spent writing, sharing his motivation for the cause with his supporters through emails, website entries, and Facebook posts.
“Do you know how a donation helps? Do you know what it really does in addition to helping with costs and financial concerns? A donation signals care. It signals love,” he said in a March Facebook post urging friends to donate.
Money raised by Bienko and the other Man and Woman of the Year candidates will fund research and pay families’ medical bills. Donations to campaigns across the country totaled $37 million, setting a new record for the LLS.
Through his work with the LLS, Bienko has gleaned new lessons from his experience with his mother’s disease. He was 19 when she passed away.
“A month after her diagnosis, she was gone, and I felt alone. I felt like I was missing my partner. Without her, I tried to do everything myself,” he said. “I wanted to look capable and I didn’t want to ask for help. I thought I would look needy…. Almost 19 years later, I realize that asking for help is not a sign of weakness; it is not a sign of failure. It’s a necessity.”
Bienko has been at UT since 2012. His paintings and drawings have been featured in venues across the world. He is a founding member of the Ortega y Gasset Projects, an artist-run curatorial collective and exhibition space in Brooklyn, New York.
The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is the world’s largest voluntary health agency dedicated to blood cancer. The LLS mission: cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families. LLS funds lifesaving blood cancer research around the world and provides free information and support services. For more information, visit their website.
C O N T A C T:
Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, firstname.lastname@example.org)