as told to Kari Molvar | October 31, 2014 | Lifestyle
Eleanor Ylvisaker takes the helm of one of the most sought-after benefits groups in the city, The Society of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s associates committee, in time for this month’s big fall party fundraiser.
Allison Aston and Ylvisaker at Gucci Celebrates The Society of MSKCC’s Associates Committee Fall Party in 2010.
“I grew up in New York and started volunteering with The Society of Memorial Sloan Kettering a couple of years ago. Cancer runs in my family: An aunt sadly passed away from melanoma before I was born. My godmother, who is my aunt on my father’s side, was treated for lung cancer at MSK. And my mother had ovarian cancer, but is now fully recovered. For two years, I volunteered on The Society of MSK’s Associates Committee Associates Committee, which was formed in the ’80s as a way to get younger members involved in the hospital, then served under Shoshanna [Gruss] as her vice chair for the past two years. I think she chose me [to succeed her] as chairwoman because she knew I was passionate about the hospital and I would work hard to follow in her footsteps.
We have about 50 members on The Society of MSK’s Associates Committee,, and most are in their late 20s to 40s. We often draw a mix of people working in fashion and beauty—Nina Garcia, fashion director of Marie Claire, has been on the committee in the past, and today we have women such as designer Veronica Beard, Mollie Ruprecht from 1stdibs, and Hayley Bloomingdale from Moda Operandi. [Ylvisaker is founder of the personal styling website feyt.com.] What first appealed to me about the Associates is that it’s a real working committee. Our goal is to raise money for patient-related initiatives at the hospital, with a focus on pediatrics.
Society of MSKCC’s 2013 Annual Fall Party at the Four Seasons.
My first steps were to assign every member of the Associates to one of the eight programs and committees. So, for example, there is a Patient Environment Program that raises money for items for patients in need; The A-Team brings in inspirational speakers, such as [cancer survivor] Sheryl Crow. Patient Recreational works on events for the kids at the hospital. Our big Fall Party [on Nov. 12] raises money for the pediatric endowment, which helps pay for families to come and stay in New York at the Ronald McDonald House while their child is being treated at the hospital.
The children’s resilience and determination to get better is so inspiring. While the Associates do amazing work to provide funds for innovation in cancer research, I find the personal experiences are what make a difference in patients’ daily lives. To me, that’s the most important part of the work we do. I heard from one mom recently who has a young daughter who goes to Sacred Heart. Her daughter hasn’t been in school for over a year and a half, but she went to the Pediatric Prom, which is an event with music and a DJ, that takes place in the hospital for kids of all ages. The kids really look forward to it. Many are missing normal childhood experiences, whether it’s going to their first dance or trick-or-treating, so creating those moments is really meaningful. This mom e-mailed us to tell us her daughter said, “Today is my best day at the hospital ever!”
Ylvisaker and Shoshanna Lonstein Gruss at the Society of MSKCC’s Fall Party in 2012.
The hospital also does gift bags around Christmas and fulfills a wish for one family every year. These stories are very hard to hear. Last year, they chose a woman who had 7-year-old twins and another child, who was about 5. She wanted to see a Broadway show with her kids, go to Build-a-Bear and American Girl Place, and have this real Christmas in New York, because it was most likely going to be her last….
Volunteering and charity work was a huge part of my upbringing because of my mother. She is one of the most extraordinary people I know. Her life is dedicated to service. She was a nun for 13 years and the head of Sacred Heart on 91st Street, but left the convent in the mid-’60s, when Vatican II went into effect. Two years later, she met my dad and they married. From there, she had a career in education and was head of the Episcopal School and head of admissions at Spence. My mother once gave her fur coat to a homeless person on the street because she felt the woman needed it more than she. She spent nights in homeless shelters and always made such an effort to get us involved in community service.
Members of the Associates Committee lead groups of carolers through the pediatrics department during the holidays.
I try to do the same with my children. I have a daughter, Ella, who is 3, ½ and a son, Alastair, who is 5. In the spring, the hospital sponsors a Bunny Hop fundraiser. This year I want to make sure the kids who attend are cognizant of the kids in the hospital we’re raising money for, so the children understand the idea of helping others.
I do this at home too. My kids have three jars: one each for Spend, Save, and Give. So when they do their chores, they get a quarter and they can choose where to put it. Now they’re starting to understand how it feels to give to somebody in need, and how that’s better than getting something for yourself.”
photography by benjamin Lozovsky/bFanyc.com (Four seasons msk annuaL party); joe schiLdhorn/bFanyc.com (gruss); david X prutting/bFanyc.com (aston); blanche mackey (clown care); courtesy of memorial sloane kettering cancer center (carolers