About NF Forward

Who We Are

Dan and Jennifer Gilbert

Dan and Jennifer Gilbert have been passionate advocates in the fight to end NF since their oldest son, Nicolas, was born with NF1. They have been long-time supporters of NF research initiatives at the Children’s Tumor Foundation, Children’s National Health System and the University of Alabama Birmingham. In 2015, they established the Gilbert Family Foundation to further advance their NF research efforts.

In 2017, the Gilberts established NF Forward, a nonprofit 501c3 organization. It shares a vision with the Gilbert Family Foundation to eradicate NF by funding groundbreaking, cutting-edge NF research. NF Forward strives to raise awareness about NF among a wide range of individuals and invite their support of this innovative vision.

NF Forward’s signature event is the beNeFit, a major gala held at TCF Center in downtown Detroit every November. Since 2013, beNeFits I-VIII raised over $37 million for NF research and attracted more than 1,700 supporters annually to join the fight to end NF.

What We Do

NF Forward funds NF research with audacious, high-reaching goals to bring us closer to a cure for NF. NF Forward focuses on three major areas:

  1. Co-funding pioneering research alongside the Gilbert Family Foundation. Projects include:
    • Vision Restoration Initiative – Inspired by Nick’s loss of vision as a result of an optic nerve tumor caused by his NF, a consortium of twelve top researchers works to regenerate the optic nerve and develop first-in-kind vision restoration therapies.
    • Gene Therapy Initiative – Since NF is a genetic disease, the search for a ‘cure’ will focus on replacing, repairing or otherwise addressing the mutated gene.  A network of nine outstanding researchers pursues the most promising strategies.
  2. Supporting innovative work of NF organizations such as the Children’s Tumor Foundation, a national organization funding broad-based NF research and advocating for the NF community.
  3. Fostering the creation of critical research tools needed to advance breakthrough science.

NF Forward accepts applications for support by invitation only.

Board of Directors & Officers

Jennifer Gilbert

President and Board Member

Matt Rizik

Secretary, Treasurer, and Board Member

Jennifer Gilbert

President and Board Member

With more than 20 years of experience in interior design, Jennifer Gilbert has evolved her expertise to serve as the Founder and Creative Director of Detroit-based POPHOUSE, a commercial design firm specializing in utilizing data and industry research to provide cutting-edge workplaces for clients across a broad spectrum of industries.

In 2015, Jennifer founded Amber Engine, a home furnishings services and solutions technology company. Amber Engine’s mission is to provide the most accurate, complete and timely record of product data for the $275B industry through its easy-to-use, flexible and affordable cloud-based SaaS solutions.

Prior to Amber Engine, Jennifer founded Doodle Home, a digital platform for residential interior designers. Doodle Home was sold to Dering Hall in 2015.

Jennifer is active with a number of nonprofits focused on the arts, Jewish causes and finding a cure for neurofibromatosis (NF). She is President of NF Forward, Chair of the Cranbrook Academy of Art Board of Governors and serves on the board of the Detroit Institute of Art. Jennifer founded the Detroit Art Collection to beautify and inspire public spaces and structures in downtown Detroit with sculptural and mixed media works from local, as well as national artists, galleries and dealers.

Jennifer earned her Bachelor of Arts in Interior Design at Michigan State University. She resides in the Detroit area with her husband, Dan, and their five children.

Matt Rizik

Secretary, Treasurer, and Board Member

Matthew J. Rizik is the Chief Tax Officer at Rock Ventures LLC, the for-more-than profit organization formed to strategically vet and pursue opportunities, align interests and provide key services to Dan Gilbert’s Family of Companies and other investments. Matt has responsibility for Gilbert’s Family of Companies tax method and compliance efforts as well as providing his expertise in the areas of financial planning, philanthropic giving, legal structure and tax compliance. Matt is also a Board Member for Rocket Companies.

Matt came to Rock Ventures after a successful career with PriceWaterhouseCooper (PwC). In his 31 years with the firm, he worked with high wealth individuals and established a professional sports and entertainment practice. He developed a specialization in major automotive corporate work and served as the General Motors Global Relationship Partner, the Ford Motor Company Global Tax Partner and the Ford Estates Lead Tax Partner. Prior to PwC, Matt served in various tax positions with Coopers & Lybrand.

He is active in the Detroit community and serves on the boards of Motown Museum Legacy Council, City Year, Gilbert Family Foundation, and NF Forward.
Matt earned both a Bachelor of Business Administration and Master of Business Administration from Michigan State University. He is an active business professional in the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Michigan Association of Certified Public Accountants.

Matt was born in Flint, and currently resides in Birmingham, Michigan with his three children.

Meet The Team

Kayleigh Roy

Director

Maria Cairo

Program Manager

Mar Paricio Sunyer

Grants and Operations Manager

Kyle Wright

Philanthropic Intern

Kayleigh Roy

Director

Kayleigh has been with the NF Forward Team for the past four beNeFits wearing a number of different hats from revenue management to database architecture. These days she’s captain of the NF Forward ship steering towards what is sure to be the most successful fundraiser yet! In addition to being able to cite almost any piece of donor information by memory, she also has a strong working knowledge of Detroit’s restaurant scene and can be found out and about as soon as the day’s work is done. Her favorite NFF moment each year is the joy of entering the full transformed ballroom for the first time on beNeFit day and seeing a year’s worth of work come to life!

Maria Cairo

Program Manager

Maria graduated from Central Michigan University where she majored in Broadcast & Cinematic Arts and Journalism. She started working for the Family of Companies in 2011 and joined NF Forward when it was formed by the Gilberts in 2017. She is passionate about helping others and looks forward to the day a cure is found for NF. Maria is happiest when she is spending time with her daughter, Cubella, and her family.

Mar Paricio Sunyer

Grants and Operations Manager

Mar graduated from Clemson University (Go Tigers!) and joined the team in 2019. Her favorite memory with NFF was beNeFit VII when Aidan Fraser received the Strength and Honor award. Since she joined the team, she has worked on all things gala, grants, operations, and social media. If you ever need her, you can find her reading a book with a glass of wine—fun fact: Mar was born in Barcelona, Spain, and can fluently speak three languages.

Kyle Wright

Philanthropic Intern

Kyle is a current student at Central Michigan University (Fire Up Chips) where he is entering his final semester as a senior this fall. He will graduate with a double major in political science and public and nonprofit administration. Kyle was brought onto the team as a summer and fall intern to assist with the preparation and execution of the beNeFit IX Gala, and to aid in the daily operations of NF Forward. When you don’t see him at work with our organization you can catch him serving as an elected School Board Trustee for the Taylor School District. A fun fact about him is that he loves wine and art and has begun collecting both as a hobby.

About NF Forward