While the cause is close to our hearts throughout the year, October is officially National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. With this in mind, we invited five of the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer’s finest team members to bring their favorite Breast Cancer Awareness color to the table for a bit of breakfast and a chat about the hard work that goes into all of that fund raising.
On the guest list:
Catherine H. (CH), Executive Director of the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer
Favorite Breast Cancer Awareness color: Loves Me …
Kris R. (KR), Foundation Brand Manager
Favorite Breast Cancer Awareness color: Ribbons
Teresa D. (TD), Foundation Administrative Assistant
Favorite Breast Cancer Awareness color: Tea Garden
Lynda H. (LH), Foundation Events Coordinator
Favorite Breast Cancer Awareness color: Twirly Birds Pink
Ana M. (AM), Copy Proofreader
Favorite Breast Cancer Awareness color: Ribbons
Can you share the Foundation story?
KR: Of course. Barb and Pat’s good friend, Mary Sloan, passed away from breast cancer in 1993. After that loss, they made it their mission to fight breast cancer and raise funds for research.
AM: Their first event was the Classic – before it was named the [Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer] Classic [Women’s Golf and Tennis Tournament] – in 1994, I believe. It raised $60,000, which is amazing when we consider this year’s Classic raised …
LH: $1,001,145. I know that number by heart!
AM: At Viva la Pink, we announced our total raised for the year, which was $2.7 million, putting us just $2.3 million away from our second $10 million pledge.
CH: We’re planning Foundation materials for 2013, and it’s truly a benchmark year because we’ll reach $20 million in giving, it will be 20 years of the Classic, 15 years of the Foundation and 10 years of Viva la Pink. So, “10, 15, 20” is kind of our theme.
What’s your favorite Foundation event and why?
LH: I don’t know if I have a favorite. The Classic is really community-wide. Turn the Town Pink is 80 percent volunteers from the neighborhoods and 20 percent Vera Bradley folks hanging ribbons, whereas Viva la Pink is the opposite; it’s 20 percent volunteers and 80 percent Vera Bradley people. So, they’re just different. Viva la Pink is fun because it’s just a big party!
TD: I’d probably say the Classic because I’m more involved with that. I like the length and the go, go, go of the event.
KR: This year, I was a neighborhood contact for Turn the Town Pink, and I just felt so connected with the individual donors. It was cool, too, Turn the Town Pink was 6 months ago, and a neighbor just called to tell me her friend wants to be a neighborhood contact next year. So it’s really great to see the return.
LH: Word of mouth … That’s how our volunteer base grows.
AM: Turn the Town Pink is great. I love seeing the people’s names on the ribbons, even though I don’t know them personally, and driving downtown and seeing all of the pretty, fluttering ribbons.
KR: My son always asks, “Mom, did you put those ribbons up?”
CH: If our kids see a pink ribbon, they pick it up and say, “Mom! Vera Bradley!”
LH: We put more than 12,000 pink ribbons around Fort Wayne this year.
KR: My kids helped, I know a lot of your kids helped, and that’s really neat to see.
CH: It’s definitely a family affair here. Our Financial Analyst Bliss Cook, she tied ribbons when she was 7 years old! I have to say all of the events are my favorite now because Lynda’s in charge. I stood in those shoes for 10 years, so I paid my dues.
LH: It’s good because I get a lot of sympathy.
What brought you to the Foundation? Do you have a personal connection to the cause?
CH: When I started, I directed the Foundation and ran the PR department. After I had my son, I had to pick one or the other. I chose the Foundation because that’s really where my interests were. In the beginning, I had one friend who had passed away from breast cancer, but now it’s been almost 13 years and I know a lot of people! Eight years ago my Mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and was gone within 14 months of her diagnosis, so now it’s personal. It gives you a different perspective on life. But we’re so blessed in this role; that we’re at a company that makes beautiful handbags, but also gives back so generously.
TD: Both of my parents passed away from cancer and my best friend from high school has it, so it means a lot to me to be here.
LH: I was actually buying tickets for the Outlet Sale and noticed a job post that the Foundation was looking for an event coordinator. It was like it was written for me. They were at the closing process of interviews, but here I am! I know so many people who have lost battles or are battling, and it just gives your every day a special meaning. You’re making a difference in the world.
KR: I’m fortunate not to have a close relative or extremely close friend who has breast cancer. I just got lucky to be on this team; the volunteers, the sponsors, the donors, everyone makes it such a great experience.
LH: With our volunteers, they do it because there’s something personal driving them.
CH: And I’m so impressed by the quality and amount of time they give us. They know, if they volunteer with us, they’re all in. Every once in awhile someone who has put in years of service will call and say they’re looking at their year ahead and can’t do it. And I respect that so much because they won’t come in halfway. They know what we need and they give us everything they have. They are not names on the list. Actually, often times people think they work here.
AM: When I started here, my first week I worked on the Classic newsletter. I was so impressed with the Foundation and thrilled I had the opportunity to work on something with them. My heart is with the Foundation.
CH: Early in my career when someone was diagnosed it was like, “Oh gosh …” and now it’s “OK! What’s the plan? Let’s do this!” But now I’m in my 40s so I’m going to see it more and more. I feel so much more hopeful for people’s future.
AM: But that also comes from having access to our researchers. They’re so passionate and the advancements are amazing.
What’s our interaction with the researchers at the lab?
CH: We try to get down and visit [the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer Research Laboratories at the Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center] at least once a year. We take a group of donors, volunteers and Vera Bradley employees. We also receive monthly updates about the research and, around February, we’re updating our annual report so we get on the phone with them to get the story and key messages about the research. If there’s an article or topic people are asking us about, I can tap back to them and ask them to help us translate. It’s a huge privilege. They’re brilliant and so good at explaining things to a layman.
LH: They come to events and support us as much as we do them.
CH: The new labs opened in 2008.
KR: And I’ve heard they’re already running out of space, so that shows how much the team has grown.
What do you do in your spare time to relax?
CH: We had a staff meeting at Co-founder Patricia Miller’s lake cottage with our feet in the water. We paddled our floaties around.
LH: I run and chase teenage kids.
AM: I like yoga.
KR: Enjoying my family.
CH: And this job makes you appreciate that so much more. I chase my golden retriever and keep socks out of his mouth!
How were you introduced to Vera Bradley?
TD: The Outlet Sale. I still remember all those navy patterns. I had them for years! My husband has been working here almost 7 years as well.
LH: My husband was on the Fort Wayne Sports Corporation with Pat Miller, so I met her 24 years ago. So, the answer is through my husband and sports … imagine that!
KR: I was on the west coast for 7 years before moving back here, and since we’re still growing out there, it wasn’t as big, but I knew the product since we had family and friends that lived here. My first bag was actually a Baby Bag.
CH: I’m one of the old timers. I was one of the first 100 employees. When we moved here, I sat down with my in-laws and said, “OK, give me a list of the top 5 companies in Fort Wayne,” and Vera Bradley was on both of their lists. So, I decided to come check it out. I’d never heard of the brand … I mean, this was 12 years ago. At the time, you interviewed for a week and half, every day with different people. I was running out of interview suits. They didn’t have a formal Human Resources department yet, they just knew they needed new people.
AM: I was employee 500 and something, and that was in 2008!
What’s something the other ladies don’t know about you?
KM: We’re so close, we share so much!
TD: Well, I worked for a lady in high school making pleated curtains. I hated it.
KR: I went backpacking in Alaska. Oh, and I lived on a 43-foot sailboat in California for about a year or so. We thought it would be fun. It was fun at times, but it was inconvenient at times, too. A 43-foot sailboat is not that big, and we had a cat and a dog on the boat. One night I woke up and I was locked in. The condensation had sealed the door!
Favorite guilty pleasure?
AM: Big Bang Theory, but I like to dance around my apartment and act like no one’s looking, too. Or good dark chocolate.
What are you reading right now?
CH: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.
LH: Love Language. I actually bought my husband the man’s version of it.
AM: I always have a fun book, an introspective book and a nerdy book. So, my nerdy books right now are The Story of Art and A Little History of the World, both by EH Gombrich, and I just finished The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. But my favorite book ever is Anne of Green Gables, so every couple of years, around Christmas, I read the whole series again. I got it at Christmas when I was 12, so it’s a fun tradition.
KR: When it’s not Diary of a Wimpy Kid with my son, I read It’s All Too Much, about organizing and simplifying. But I have to say I prefer Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
Favorite TV show?
TD: Big Bang Theory
AM: Yes! They don’t even have to say anything and I’m laughing.
LH: The Voice
TD: I do watch American Idol when it’s on.
CH: I would say Parks and Recreation.
KR: New Girl always makes me laugh.
Obviously, October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but what would you say about raising awareness all year long?
TD: That it does affect everyone. It’s not a disease that’s just for young people, older people, men or women.
LH: Early detection is so important because it’s not a death sentence anymore. There are so many advancements. The earlier you catch it, the more aggressive they can be.
AM: It’s the prevention part, too. People my age think they’re invincible, but there are so many lifestyle changes you can make with diet and exercise to prevent disease.
CH: For every $1 spent on research, there’s $50 spent on treatment. So, we’re spending that much more on those who have the issue now rather than trying to fix the problem. It could be an economic issue that needs to shift, because absolutely people are suffering and need care now, but we have to understand the investment as well.
KR: There’s so much pink in October and it’s hard to see through it and focus on the little things, too. Yes, we’re here to raise funds for research, but remember the human element. Don’t forget about the small, helpful things you can do for those in treatment, or ways you can get involved anytime.