In my hometown of Erie, Pa., doing what every teenage girl in western Pennsylvania was doing—hanging posters of Neil O’Donnell and Kirk Cameron in my locker at school. I was also a production manager at Burger King.
When you graduated from high school, what did you think you wanted to be as an adult?
I’d started nursing school and took a psychology course as an elective and switched majors—I was fascinated by how the mind works.
Was there an event in the last 20 years that had a great impact on your aspirations and/or career path?
I’ve been blessed to have experienced amazing opportunities and to have crossed paths with a number of extraordinary people, so there has not been one defining moment or one person who has influenced my career trajectory.
Have you been mentored by (or had any significant interactions with) previous Forty Under 40 honorees?
My board chairman, Juan Gonzalez, is active on many boards, has a young family and a pretty dynamic, pressure-filled job, yet he rarely loses his cool and has such an ease in addressing tough issues. He says it is because he just breathes before he responds—so I breathe a lot more now. Rafael Sanchez, another alum, is also on the board of Cancer Support Community. I have learned to not take myself too seriously from Rafael.
Where/what do you want to be 20 years from now?
I’ve got my dream job now so this’ll be hard to top! In 20 years I hope to have achieved work-life balance and to spend more time away from the office than in it.
CEO, Cancer Support Community-Central Indiana
Kathleen Spears came to Indianapolis four years ago, a health services executive on a mission.
“What attracted me to Cancer Support Community during the interview [for CEO] was the board’s commitment to helping low-income ethnic minorities,” she said, noting that the organization built its facility in Pike Township, an area with a high percentage of minorities.
The nationwide organization offers emotional and mind-body support services to cancer patients and their families. Other free services include support groups run by licensed therapists, along with yoga, Pilates, cooking classes and nutrition services that cater to the special needs of cancer patients.
Research shows that mind-body wellness impacts physical outcomes for cancer patients, said Spears, who has a Ph.D. in health studies and community health from Texas Woman’s University.
As the leader of a not-for-profit, especially one that offers all its services for free, she is ever-conscious of funding. Like the character Blanche DuBois in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” the organization “depends on the kindness of strangers,” she noted.
That’s why she took a calculated risk with the group’s annual fundraiser, Laughing Matters, bringing in comedian Joan Rivers and relocating the event to the Indiana Roof Ballroom. The result netted $50,000 instead of $10,000.
In addition to fundraising, she does “friendraising,” forming partnerships with other cancer organizations like Little Red Door and American Cancer Society, to maximize their efforts.
As a board member of Horizon House, she has worked on fundraisers and development. She identifies with the underserved.
“We weren’t poor but we were pretty darn close,” she said of growing up one of nine children in Erie, Pa. Her mother died when she was 6, and her father died soon after. She was raised by her six sisters.
One of her newer involvements was with Rotary Club, where she worked on a program for Martin Luther King Day.
She also was on the steering committee for the Super Bowl Host Committee’s Super Cure Initiative to collect tissue samples for breast cancer research.•