Former Sarasota police officer Chris Panichello retired a few years after dedicating 31 years of his life to his community.
A husband to Dana, father of six and grandfather of five, Panichello reached a time of his life where he thought he could leave the stress behind and enjoy retirement. Instead, he was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 lymphoma.
Twenty five years ago, Sean Gleason joined the force and it was Panichello who was assigned to train the young officer. Gleason wanted to do something for the man he said made him the officer he is today. Right around the time Panichello was diagnosed, Gleason’s wife Kelly was planning to open her Studio K2G yoga studio at 4652 State Road 64 E. in the Braden River Plaza.
After years in the corporate world, Kelly Gleason opened her dream business on Dec. 31. Instead of a celebratory grand opening, the couple decided to host a fund-raiser on March 10 to help the Panichello family offset rising medical expenses.
Kelly Gleason is offering a donation-only yoga class beginning at 10 a.m. with other activities beginning at 11 a.m., including a silent auction, raffle and pizzas being donated by Casa Di Pizza. Local businesses have stepped up to offer gift cards for a variety of prizes and services.
“This became personal to me because my husband is a cop,” Gleason said. “A lot of people who aren’t involved in that life when married to a law enforcement officer don’t understand they spend so much of their lives helping others in their community. People don’t see that’s it all the time, not just when they put on the badge and uniform.”
Gleason said she wants the community to come together, if only for a few hours, to get know who Panichello is as a father, husband, grandfather, police officer and man.
When Gleason, who lives in Palmetto, envisioned her studio, which offers a variety of classes to fit anyone’s needs, she saw it as more than a place to do yoga. She wanted it to be a one-stop-shop for a variety of fitness needs.
“What I really want is to create a sense of community,” she said. “The people that come here hang out before class and a lot of them have become friends. No matter what walk of life, this is a place where people can feel supported.
“That’s why this is so closely tied to Chris. Yoga, as a whole, brings people together with therapeutic benefits so we want to get people in here who don’t know Chris and get to know him and create that sense of community that Chris loves to serve.”
In a time when some perceptions of law enforcement officers have turned negative, Gleason said this is a good opportunity to show Panichello and other law enforcement officers that the majority of people love their police.
“It’s cliche, but there are good and bad people in all walks of life. But the most important thing, no matter how negative somebody feels about law enforcement, is they are going to put their badge and uniform on and they are going to help somebody no matter how that somebody views them,” Gleason said. “They are going to help. They don’t care about your background, where you’re from or the color of your skin. The only thing they care about is helping you and protecting the people that need protecting.”
Gleason recalled a trip to North Carolina with her husband when the couple witnessed a car crash.
“He stopped, jumped out, told me to call 911 and then ran over to help,” Gleason said. “He’s trained to help people and their instinct is to help people. It didn’t matter that he was off duty and out of state. It’s just who they are. We are all going through things. We can all be a little nicer to one another. If everyone was a little nicer, everyone would be a little happier. So why wouldn’t we take a couple of hours to show someone he is loved, appreciated and supported.”
The Sarasota Police Department posted Panichello’s battle with cancer Dec. 17 on their Facebook page and the prayers and well wishes poured out from the community.
A gofundme.com page was established with an initial $10,000 goal and as of Thursday it had surpassed the goal at $10,145. It was a modest goal given the expensive battle ahead but with insurance it will pay for 10 months of chemo treatments.
It may or may not take more but If for some reason the family raises more than they need, their intention is to turn around and give the excess funds to another family in need of help.
The planned fundraiser at Studio K2G has the community rallying for Panichello. All are welcome to the class or the post-class activities and if you have prize donations to offer, email Gleason at kelly@studiok2g or info@studiok2g.
Panichello was unable to be reached do to receiving treatment this week.