Heather Leeds, the new president of The Society of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (“The Society”), comes to her office with a strong dedication to volunteerism. For the last 20 years, she has served as chairman of its Associates Committee and on its Executive Committee, serving two terms as vice president of the Administrative Board. As Leeds comments, “Serving as a volunteer for an extraordinary institution like the Memorial Sloan- Kettering Cancer Center, gives you so much more than you give.” But it’s fair to say that Leeds gives a lot.
As the Society’s president serving a two-year term, Leeds oversees approximately twenty committees who work on a wide range of projects that support patient care, cancer research, and public education on the prevention, early detection, and treatment of cancer. (She is pictured above with Sirio and Egidiani Maccioni, owners of Le Cirque, who hosted The Society’s Park Avenue Potluck CELEBRATIONS press luncheon in June). Through its Social Services Committee and the Endowment for Patient Care, The Society provides assistance with housing and transportation as well as other basic needs facing patients when they visit or stay at the Center.
The Society plays a particularly strong role in supporting children who are being treated at the Center as well as their siblings and other family members. For its pediatric patients, The Society delivers holiday gift bags at its annual holiday party, and hosts a Halloween party and a “prom” where the children wear prom dresses and tuxedos—all donated by top designers and merchants and paid for with funds raised by The Society. “Seeing the joy on the children’s faces makes it apparent why volunteers are so committed to what they do,” Leeds says.
Before becoming a full-time volunteer, Leeds worked in the financial services industry as a bond trader. Having been “so inspired by the passion the doctors and nurses bring to their work at the Center,” Leeds started volunteering at the Center in 1990 when she became an associate member of The Society. “There are a number of wonderful causes to support, but for me, being a volunteer at the Center has been very meaningful in every way.” In 1990, Leeds’s father passed away within a year of being diagnosed with malignant melanoma. This personal experience reinforced her commitment to the mission of the Center and The Society.
Founded in 1946, The Society has a cadre of committed volunteers who have raised over $100 million for the Center since its founding. Much of The Society’s work focuses on activities that raise funds for patient care, education and research. The two biggest fundraising events are The Society’s 21st Annual Preview Party of The International Fine Art and Antique Dealers Show on October 15, and its Spring Ball, which will be held on May 20, 2010. In addition to these events, The Society runs The Memorial Sloan Cancer Thrift Shop (Third Avenue between 81st and 82nd Streets), which carries a wide selection of fabulous clothes, jewelry, handbags, furniture and home furnishings. But right now, Leeds is particularly excited about the upcoming launch of Park Avenue Potluck Celebrations, a follow-up to its best-selling cookbook: Park Avenue Potluck, written by The Society’ s cookbook committee and New York Times food and wine contributor, Florence Fabricant.
The new cookbook, published by Rizzoli, is set to launch in late October with a portion of its sales funding The Society’s programs. The cookbook includes a mouth-watering selection of recipes that revolve around the holidays. For example, the Valentine’s Day menu includes a recipe for Filet Mignon a’ la crème that has a romantic origin: Peter Jones, the husband of past president Leslie Jones and the recipe’s contributor, made the dish for his wife the day he proposed to her. And, a personal favorite of Leeds’s is Ilana’s Pumpkin Muffins, contributed by the head of the Pediatrics Administration for her daughter Ilana, who loves to bake the muffins with the children in Pediatrics.
The book was meticulously edited by Florence Fabricant, who selected and tasted more than eighty recipes featured in the book. Ben Fink, an award-winning photographer, did the photo shoots in New York and the East End of Long Island (“Quoque to East Hampton.”) Each recipe includes a suggested menu and a wonderful “behind the scenes” story provided by the recipe’s contributor.
What makes the events and cookbook special, however, is the ultimate goal: raising money to provide quality of life for the patients and their families while they are undergoing treatment at the Center. Encouragingly, cancer survival rates continue to go up, and for volunteers like Leeds, this is really what it’s all about.
Leeds points with admiration to the work of Dr. Michael La Quaglia, the chief of the Pediatric Surgical Service at the Center. Dr. La Quaglia’s work with young cancer patients has become legendary in the medical community. The Society’s Associate’s Council plans to honor him for his work next February.
Leeds, who lives with her husband (shown with her on left) and three children in Carnegie Hill, is a perfect advocate for volunteerism. She also serves as chair of her alma mater’s (Manhattanville College) NYC Alumni Club and sits on the boards of the Southampton Fresh Air Home and the Colony Club. “I want to be a good role model for my children,” Leeds says. “Volunteers provide an important service in our everyday lives and will continue to be important as our country moves forward with hope.” Serving as the president of the Society of the Memorial Sloan- Kettering Cancer Center is volunteerism par excellence.
For more information on The Society, go to www.mskcc.org/mskcc/html/1087.cfm
Woman Around Town’s Six Questions
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