After nearly 30 years – spent at UNC and then as a banker, a photography studio owner and portrait artist, and an area development manager mostly in New York City – the Durham native returned home in 2009 to enter the nonprofit world, specifically as the executive director at Caring House, which supports Duke Cancer Institute patients by providing them and their caregivers a place to stay during treatment. With four grown children – Trey Newsome, Mary Cabell Hunt, Kate van Wagenberg and Mark van Wagenberg – she and husband, Jeroen van Wagenberg, enjoy exploring the Bull City’s arts scene and supporting local restaurants.
What led you to accept the position with Caring House?
I watched and cared for my mother, Sherry Townsend, as she fought her own battle with cancer 17 years ago. I have seen firsthand the toll cancer takes on the patient and the family.
How does your diverse professional background add to your work running a nonprofit?
I was in the for-profit world for 25 of my 34 years of working, and it taught me to work hard, reach goals and hit [the] budget. When I entered the nonprofit world, I quickly realized that, while it is imperative to have a compassionate heart behind your mission, it is also necessary to run the organization as a business and protect the donor dollar with wise financial decisions.
Tell me about a time when all your hard work paid off in a tangible way.
What is so special about Caring House is how all of our guests deal with the treatment they are receiving at Duke Cancer Institute with such strength and resolve. I love to hear laughter from them echoing through the halls, despite their health struggles. It is worth everything we do to provide a safe and comfortable environment.