Board President Melissa Felder discusses the significance of Zero Breast Cancer in this month’s Get to Know the ZBC Board interview. She has been a member of the Board of Directors for the past three years and is toward the end of her first year of a two-year term as president. Building on her initial engagement with ZBC as a Taproot Foundation consultant, Melissa has helped ensure our organization fulfills our goals to prevent breast cancer in the next generation. She will help oversee exciting new developments that will be made possible by Marjorie Bonner’s generous bequest.
Q: Could you tell me about your day job?
A: I am the Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer at the California Academy of Sciences. It is an aquarium, natural history museum, and planetarium in Golden Gate Park. Their mission is to explore, explain and sustain life. The part of the mission that I work most directly with is explaining because I help translate our science into exciting experiences at the museum. I think a lot about our branding, and am responsible for the marketing, communications and sales effort. Working in the Academy is so energizing because several times a day I go out on the museum floor and I see people having their eyes opened as they learn about science and the natural world. In my prior career, I’ve enjoyed my jobs, but I didn’t actually do it alongside the audience. Because I get to see visitors actually experiencing the museum, it makes me better at my job.
Q: What motivated you to become a member of the board?
A: About six years ago, I was involved in a Taproot project. Taproot does pro-bono service consulting for non-profits and I was the brand strategist on that project. At the time, we were helping the prior executive director think about the strategic direction of Zero Breast Cancer. I became acquainted with not only ZBC but what other organizations were also doing in the breast cancer arena and how many different ways organizations can approach a problem. As opposed to saying “Breast cancer is bad. We’re going to fight this,” which is amorphous and general, I found it empowering to figure out exactly what ZBC could uniquely do to help address breast cancer. That early exposure kind of primed the pump and then almost four years ago the new Executive Director, Rose Barlow, approached me. I realized that the organization was continuing to evolve, which was exciting. Their articulated mission of preventing breast cancer in the next generation was really appealing to me, partially because I’m a mom. It just felt like the right thing at the right time.
Q: What does ZBC mean to you?
A: Zero Breast Cancer, the name, represents a very bold, aspirational goal. When I first heard it, I thought, “Really? Zero?” but then I realized that the goal and the name is provides a rallying cry. It’s very clear what’s important to the organization and what it wants. It points us in a direction. We’re not just trying to make people feel more comfortable or improving things a little. We really do want to achieve zero breast cancer. Zero Breast Cancer’s role is to have people understand how they can prevent breast cancer in the next generation.
Q: How has breast cancer touched you personally?
A: I’ve had friends and colleagues that have gone through treatment, but it was my father passing away from oral cancer that added an even greater sense of urgency for me. I realized through that process that all the wellness things that we talk about for breast cancer actually apply to all cancers and many diseases. That even made it more powerful for me to know we can do something now. There are some aspects of breast cancer that aren’t preventable, but there are things that we can do now that make a difference.
Q: What is your favorite ZBC memory?
A: A memory that stands out to me is when my daughter and I delivered some Zero Breast Cancer materials to high school wellness centers in Marin. At the time, I started off thinking “I’m doing a favor. I’m helping out,” but when I saw how much those materials resonated with the wellness leaders of all three high schools, it came together for me. They weren’t just brochures to them. The wellness center understands what can make a difference and how to talk to youth. They valued the materials in a way that reinforced how meaningful and important the work was.
Q: When you talk to friends, family and colleagues about ZBC, what are the three most important things you want them to take away from the conversation?
A: One of the things that was surprising to me that I want people to understand is that heredity isn’t the biggest factor—actually health and wellness is. Also, I want people to know that there are these windows of susceptibility where our bodies are more prone to being impacted from various health and wellness and environmental factors. The third thing is the choices you make in those times, when you’re young, have an impact beyond the moment. That was a big ah-ha to me and felt like a rallying cry. I want everybody to know that.
Q: What are your hopes for the organization?
A: I’m excited about the Marjorie Bonner bequest and feel like that will provide the means for us to continue to expand the dissemination of our materials further into underserved communities. We’re working on partnerships that can help us reach more underserved people because they are potentially receiving less information and/or health and wellness might not be as high on their radar. Disseminating to expand reach in general is important, but the possibility that it could make even more of an impact on underserved communities is even more so.
Q: How do you support the mission of ZBC?
A: I support it by expanding the awareness in my network, not only of Zero Breast Cancer but about what the organization stands for and is trying to do. Also, I currently serve as the board president. I partner with Rose and the professional team to make sure we’re allocating resources in the smartest way possible. I’m a good sounding-board. I like to think I’m a balanced decision-maker and that other board members have confidence in where the organization is going when I weigh in on important topics.
Q: What is one surprising or fun fact about you that our readers might not know?
A: I am very, very afraid of spiders even though I work in an organization with entomologists and arachnologists. For somebody that works in a scientific institution, sometimes my reactions aren’t always scientific.
Interview conducted and written-up by Lianna Hartmour, ZBC Program Director