By Tresa Halbrooks & Chelsea Lomartire
With 16 years of experience, Katharine Ray is a strategic leader in the nonprofit cancer field and currently serves as the Executive Director of The Heimerdinger Foundation. In addition, she has experience in brand, communications and marketing leadership roles for several healthcare support organizations and has been integral to their program ideation, relationship development and oncology outreach.
Her patient advocacy work and, as a long-term cancer survivor herself, her passion for supporting those with cancer has included interpreting and educating others about healthcare, patient support, the patient experience and the latest in oncology care. She has served as a volunteer and contributor to numerous cancer nonprofit organizations and cancer publications. Katharine has a Master of Arts in English and has also worked in the field of professional writing for 32 years.
The Heimerdinger Foundation was founded in 2011 in memory of coach Mike Heimerdinger, who coached for thirty-five years with fifteen of those years in the National Football League for the Denver Broncos, Tennessee Titans and the New York Jets. In November of 2010, Heimerdinger was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and sought to find answers by making changes to his diet and lifestyle. He passed away in September of 2011, and the information gained throughout his journey provided the opportunity for his wife, Kathie Heimerdinger, to honor her late husband, known as “Dinger,” through The Heimerdinger Foundation.
Currently serving residents of Davidson and Williamson Counties, the Meals 4 Health & Healing program provides nutrient-dense, organic meals that are immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory as well as nutrition education to patients and their families and caregivers, free of charge. Last year, the program served 18,750 meals, bringing the total number of meals to over 53,000 since inception.
The foundation has also educated hundreds of volunteer teens and adults about healing nutrition for life through the Meals 4 Health and Healing organic garden, kitchen and meal delivery program. They’ve had approximately 250 teen and adult volunteers who help prepare and deliver the meals and offer support to clients in treatment.
While they’ve had incredible success through many giving hearts and hands, the nonprofit is looking for more support to grow hope for people facing cancer and to foster growing awareness that food is medicine.
We had a chance to visit with Katharine Ray and get to know the work of this non-profit a little better.
Q: What motivated you to work with the Heimerdinger Foundation?
A: I first met the founder, Kathie Heimerdinger, in 2012 when she was developing the Meals 4 Health and Healing program. Her family’s story of honoring Dinger’s memory and giving back to the community touched my heart. I admired the focus on high quality nutrition, which is supported by research as effective in healing and in the fight against cancer. Nourishing someone so that they can heal resonates with me as a cancer survivor myself. A poignant memory for me is the summer of 1975 when I was going through cancer treatment as a teenager. I remember daily treatments that left me nauseated and exhausted. I came home from the hospital each day to sleep them off for hours. I would wake up in the late afternoon to the sounds and aromas of my mother preparing a dinner of fresh vegetables and fruit from our garden for me. Being served food to support healing during one of the most difficult times in your life is something you never forget – that is a profound gift of love!
Q: Do you have any upcoming programs or events you’d like the public to know about?
A: Our 7th Annual Drive 4 Dinger Celebrity Golf Tournament and Celebration Dinner & Silent Auction will be held June 15th and 16th to raise funds in support of our signature Meals 4 Health and Healing program. Held at the Vanderbilt Legends Club golf course, the celebrity golf tournament on June 15th features a light lunch prior to tee-off and an awards dinner afterwards. Saturday evening, June 16th, features a reception, silent auction, dinner and live auction. Funds raised will directly support Meals 4 Health and Healing for up to six months. We are currently looking for sponsors, in-kind donors and participants to support our largest fundraising event of the year.
For more information about our program and the event, go to hfmeals.org.
Q: What’s the biggest difference that The Heimerdinger Foundation has made in your life or others?
A: Our program educates the Nashville community about proper nutrition, healthy meal options and provides nutrient-rich meals to patients fighting cancer during a time when healthy eating can positively impact the healing process. About 80% of cancer patients end up malnourished as a result of cancer treatment. We firmly believe and share the growing awareness that “Food is Medicine”.
The nutrition education component of our mission adds significant value to our community as we share findings on cancer-fighting properties of all the food we serve and encourage nutritious food choices for life. By educating clients, their families, and the adult and teen volunteers, we hope to increasingly transform the health and nutritional choices of countless people in our community.
Additionally, we’ve seen first-hand the incredible burden that cancer places on families. We believe the nutrition support for everyone in the household is critical. Our clients tell us that Meals 4 Health and Healing increases their energy and immunity to illness, helps get them through the difficult challenges of radiation and chemotherapy and brings them hope and healing through a caring community of support.
Q: What advice would you give to young professionals wanting to make a difference in their community, whether they decide to work for a non-profit or not.
A: The Nashville area is a huge philanthropic community and there are countless ways to plug into the nonprofit arena. There are many nonprofits that could use your support, expertise or passion. Your involvement would mean the world to them and your contribution would help the non-profit’s growth. Don’t hesitate to ask for mentorship from a leader in an area that intrigues you – we need the next generation of nonprofit leaders and stakeholders. I hope you will find a mission to champion and share your story with others!
Q: How do you find work / life balance?
A: It is a work in progress for me as it is for most everyone I know. Working for a nonprofit that believes deeply in our holistic health is a reminder to me every day to find balance, to eat well, to exercise and to care for self. I am getting better at taking the time I need to rest mind and body, read, walk, pursue other interests and travel. I always have time to play with my new grandson, Elliott!
For more information about getting involved with The Heimerdinger Foundation, visit hfmeals.org.
Tresa Halbrooks is the Founder and President of LEGACY Consulting, PR & Events, a premier public relations and event production company based in Franklin, TN. Tresa has worked with and consulting a variety of non-profit organizations about their fundraising events, programs and philanthropy strategy. In addition, she has produced some of Nashville’s top celebrity and charity events as well as public relations and branding campaigns over the past 23 years.