Motivated to Serve


Funnel for a cure

Foundation funds research

By Bonnie Blackburn
Catherine Hill describes herself as a conduit, a funnel through which money flows and pours onto researchers. And, she hopes, maybe some good will come from her funnel, as those researchers try to find an end to breast cancer, a disease that killed nearly 40,000 women in the United States last year.

As executive director of the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer, Hill oversees an organization that’s exploded in size along with the explosive growth of its parent company, Vera Bradley. The charitable arm of the lifestyle accessory maker was founded in 1998 with a mission to eliminate breast cancer as a life-threatening disease by raising funds for research and research-related projects. More than $15 million has been raised since the charity’s founding, and the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer Research Laboratories, located at the Indiana University cancer center, has been recognized by the National Cancer Institute as a leader in breast cancer research.

Vera Bradley’s founders, Barbara Bradley Baekgaard and Patricia R. Miller, founded the charity in honor of a friend, Mary Sloan, who lost a battle with breast cancer. The company remains the foundation’s largest source of support.

Hill came to Fort Wayne in 2000 from Evansville, where she served in city government  working in community development. When she and her husband, Scott, arrived in Fort Wayne, she asked her in-laws to separately draw up a list of companies that would be good matches for her. Vera Bradley was on both lists. She was hired as public relations coordinator.

“It was a much smaller company back then,” Hill said. “We are growing so fast it’s fun to be a part of it. You feel so fortunate to be a part of it and witness it.”

Hill moved full-time into the foundation’s executive director slot soon after her arrival, and now spends her time overseeing the foundation’s fundraising events. The two largest events are the Vera Bradley Classic golf and tennis tournaments, which begin June 1, and the Tickled Pink gatherings in October. The Vera Bradley outlet sale each April is also a source of funding.

“I give so much credit to the Fort Wayne community,” Hill said. “The level of in-kind donations and volunteerism from Fort Wayne continues to grow and it amazes me.”

That said, the Foundation is taking its two main fundraising events on the road in 2012, with Tickled Pink events in Boston, Chicago and Washington, D.C., and a second Vera Bradley Classic in Charlotte, N.C., in October.

Hill draws on the experience of friends and family members who were diagnosed with cancer to motivate her to continue the fight against breast cancer.

“There are so many things I get out of this,” she said. “And I was quickly motivated by the people around me.”

After her mother died of ovarian cancer, “what was a strong commitment (became) personal,” she said. “I met cancer up close and personally. I know very intimately that what I’m doing” is helping bring an end to the disease.

Posted: Thu, 06/14/2012 - 1:40 pm
Last updated: Fri, 07/13/2012 - 2:33 pm