Hometown: Columbus, Ohio
Employer: Nellie’s Catwalk for Kids
Title: President & Founder
What is Nellie’s Catwalk for Kids?
Nellie’s Catwalk for Kids (NC4K) is a nonprofit organization I founded in 2006. The organization focuses on helping make life a little easier for kids and teens who are battling cancer. We accomplish this through programs like our Peace of Mind program that assists families with a house payment, and putting gas in their car and food on their table.
We also adopt families at Christmastime, stuff backpacks full of school supplies and ship care package across the country to families. NC4K strives to be the organization that families can turn to for help and, more importantly, for hope.
How and when did you come up with the idea of NC4K?
I was inspired after I lost my grandmother, Goldie, to cancer when I was very young. Prior to losing my grandma, fashion is what really bonded us together. When I was in high school, I recalled all the times I would play dress up in my grandma’s clothes. Over time, an idea developed to plan a fashion show to raise money for cancer.
That’s when I started to do some research about cancer, and found out that many people are unaware that childhood cancer is the least funded type of cancer and that it is the number one leading cause of death by disease for children. During the summer of 2007, the first fashion show took place with local kids and teens as the models wearing things they liked. One very special model was Eden, a seven year old who was battling cancer for the second time.
Many people don’t know this, but Eden is the reason I kept planning more fashion shows. Eden had so much fun and used this as an opportunity to escape cancer for a few hours. She told me she was really looking forward to the next fashion show. She is now one of the very special angels. NC4K fights for kids like Eden every day.
How much as NC4k grown? How big do you want it to grow?
NC4K has grown in ways I never imagined. Yes, I had the idea, but it’s because of thousands of people that NC4K is alive and thriving.
Our main fashion show has grown from 25 models to 200 models. Our guests for that event also have grown from 200 to more than 3,000. We also have added several other key fundraisers and partnerships.
To date, we have raised nearly $1 million, which has helped us become one of the leading nonprofits in our area. There are very few nonprofits helping families directly and we are trying to fill that need.
That is why we have begun our expansion to more than eight satellite locations outside of Columbus. This helps NC4K collect more funds and reach out to more families who are in need. We still have a long way to go, but we are up for the challenge.
How did your education at ODU help you pursue your dream of growing NC4K and helping families who are in need?
My education at ODU has been invaluable to NC4K. It taught me how to craft letters to ask for donations, write press releases to announce upcoming events, think critically, and how to present at business meetings.
What’s one unique experience at ODU that helped prepare you professionally, personally and/or spiritually?
One unique experience that has helped me more than anything is the love that the professors and faculty have for me. Every day, I would walk into class and my Public Relations professor, Natalie Kompa, would ask how everything was going with NC4K, what challenges we were facing, or just how I was feeling. Those personal touches and relationships are what made the four years at ODU so meaningful and impactful.
What is your fondest memory of ODU?
I think my fondest memory was making the transition from high school to college and finally feeling like an adult. I was scared at first, but when I was on campus, I felt like it was a safe place to explore ideas and find out who I really am.
Looking back, what doors did your ODU education open for you professionally?
ODU opened so many doors for me professionally. We had the fashion show at ODU two years in a row. Not only were we able to use meeting space in the student center, but ODU’s President, Peter Cimbolic, showed a true interest in what we were doing and invited me to lunch so he could learn more about NC4K.
ODU has also written news stories on NC4K and supported me every step of the way. ODU has been my cheerleader to succeed.
What would you say to a current or prospective ODU student who aspires to work in your field?
I would say to get involved in your field and absorb everything you possibly can. Ask plenty of questions, make mistakes and plan for your future.
What sets ODU apart from other universities you could have attended?
For me, it was the personal relationships, small class sizes, location and wonderful education. While I think I would have excelled in a 300-person lecture, I need and like the one-on-one attention that I received from my professors at ODU.
Why did you choose ODU?
During my senior year of high school, I sat in on one of Professor Kompa’s classes. Everything just felt right. That’s when I chose to attend ODU, and I’m extremely happy that I did!
How proud are you to be an ODU alumna?
I am so proud to be an ODU alumna! People ask me all the time where I graduated from, and I’m always proud to tell them!