Meet Our November Volunteer of the Month

 Leah Vanderwerp, 11.14 Volunteer of the MonthFor November, we would like to recognize Leah Vanderwerp, a volunteer who continues to help us in many ways, including serving on the Bottoms Up Bash Planning Committee and at various events. We greatly appreciate all of her hard work to help raise awareness and support the Colon Cancer Prevention Project!

*How did you get involved with The Project?

I lost both my aunt and my grandfather to cancers that are difficult to detect and screen for – ovarian and lung cancers. My Aunt Joanie and my Granddaddy both played a significant role in my life, and it has been difficult to adjust to a life without them. With all that my family went through, I wanted to become involved in helping to support other fighters and their loved ones during their cancer journeys. During my Master’s of Science in Social Work program last year, I had the opportunity to participate in the first Psychosocial Oncology specialization for social worker students at the Kent School of Social Work at U of L.

During my Master’s program, I interned at the Brown Cancer Center and worked as part of the GI Cancer team. I helped numerous patients with colon cancer fill out the Project’s Fighter’s Fund application, and became familiar with the Project. After I took a job this summer outside of the oncology field working as a School Based Therapist in two elementary schools for Seven Counties Services, I wanted to stay involved in the fight against cancer. Volunteering with the Project seemed like a natural next step for me!

*Why Louisville?

I was born and raised in Louisville, and although I spent a brief five years as a resident of Nashville, Tennessee for college at Vanderbilt University, I have always known that Louisville is my home. Our city has so much potential to lead our state forward in progress – in arts, in culture, in the culinary scene, in health – and I am excited to become an even bigger part of that through my work with the Project.

*Favorite restaurant in Louisville?

This question is a tough one! Like I said, Louisville has grown so much as a food town, and I love discovering all of the new restaurants that are popping up almost weekly. But if I had to pick, I would have to say that Ramsi’s Cafe, Simply Thai, and Sapporo are usually at the top of my list.

*What is one interesting fact about you that most people don’t know?

Although I ended up as a Sociology and Child Development double major, and then earned a Master’s in Social Work, I started college as a Mathematics major! I love working with people, but I also love organizing things and crunching numbers. It’s a weird combination.

*What is your motto you live by?

One of my favorite quotes has always been, “Be pretty if you can, be witty if you must, but be gracious if it kills you” by Elsie De Wolfe. I have it written on a bracelet that I wear often, to remind me that above all else it is important to be grateful for this one wonderful life that we have been given.

*What is some advice you were given long ago and still live by?

My mom and dad are some of the main sources of advice that I still turn to when I have a difficult decision to make, or when I simply need to know which path to choose. One of my mom’s biggest pieces of advice when I was little is that “you have to be a friend to have friends”. On the days where I feel like I am totally exhausted from caring for children and helping them sort through their problems, I know that I have a large circle of support to turn to – and I try to provide that same kind of support to my friends also, even when I don’t feel up to the challenge.

My mom also advised me never to leave the house without underwear on, but that one is somewhat self-explanatory…

*What is your guilty pleasure? (Yes, we mean the one you are slightly embarrassed to admit.)

My guilty pleasure is that I am an avid reader of People magazine – and that this is where most of my news comes from, as my roommates and I do not have cable. I am an avid reader, in general, but see no need to cut out the celebrity gossip in favor of a more hard news media outlet! I’ll stick with my library books, but I’ll also have my celebrities on the side.

*If you could go anywhere in the world right now, where would you go and why?

If I could go anywhere in the world right now, I would probably head down south to Destin, Florida. My mom’s side of the family took annual summer vacations there when I was a child, and some of my fondest memories with my Aunt Joanie and my Granddaddy are from that stretch of white sand on the Gulf of Mexico. Every time I visit, it brings me right back to my childhood. Plus, it’s cold here in Kentucky right now, and I could use a little Florida sunshine!

*If you could trade places with anyone in the world (dead or alive) for a month, who would choose and why?

I would love to trade places with Princess Kate Middleton for a month. My mom and I have always loved the Royal Family, and I think it would be so neat to see what it is like to live in a palace and help lead England! Plus you would get to be married to Prince William, and would have access to Kate’s closet. I’m sure that a month in the spotlight would be more than enough for me though, and I would be ready to head back to the anonymity of my old Kentucky home sooner rather than later.

***Thank you, Leah!***