In 2001, a budding group of young philanthropists came together to see how they could advance MD Anderson's fight to end cancer. At that time, Kathryn Wilson, a mother of two young children, had just undergone a prophylactic mastectomy and hysterectomy. After genetic testing revealed the BRCA2 mutation, she was among the first wave of people to undergo the preventative cancer treatment at MD Anderson. Wilson also was among the original group of Advance Team members, determined to make a difference by providing support for cancer patients and their families.
“I was invited to join the inaugural meeting of the Advance Team, which at that point hadn’t even settled on a name yet,” recalls Wilson. “We hit the ground running. We had a lot of energy and ideas and did a lot of brainstorming. We thought, ‘What can we do? Where can we make a difference?’”
Coordinating logistics for the new group was one of Fernando Yarrito's first assignments on the job at MD Anderson. A former executive director of Development and now happily retired, Yarrito recalls the promising young group's importance to the institution.
“There were so many ‘next-generation’ men and women already connected and committed to MD Anderson,” says Yarrito. “But they were still in the process of building their careers and families. We wanted to give them board experience and the opportunity to make a difference.”
After just one meeting, the inaugural 15 members got right to work, focusing efforts on one priority: childhood skin cancer prevention. The Advance Team successfully place sun safety awareness programs and sunscreen tips in schools across Texas and expanded its focus areas to encompass MD Anderson's entire pediatrics program, even playing an integral role in developing the MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital brand.
“The name ‘Advance Team’ was just so fitting for this group,” says Yarrito. “They were our frontline – the first ones out in the community – telling people about MD Anderson, our mission and what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Today, Lenae Fowler of the Development Office coordinates the group, which has grown to 60 members across the nation. Last year, they raised more than $300,000, distributed more than 1,500 bottles of sunscreen and chaired more than a dozen events.
The way the Advance Team is set up, as a small, dynamic group of individuals, everyone feels engaged and empowered to speak up and take real ownership of the good that's accomplished and the positive that comes from our team efforts. It's self-perpetuating and exactly what we were hoping for in that first meeting. I'm happy to see that it's continued over the years.