Thursday, December 9, 2010

Powerful Impact People: Mary Ann Wasil Nilan

Mary Ann Wasil Nilan, the executive director of the Get in Touch Foundation in Milford, is one of those people you meet and then feel that you have known your whole life.  Her day starts at 5:30 am with 30 min of yoga and Starbucks and then she’s ready for her day. The day may not be ready for her.   First she answers hundreds of emails from schools, medical centers, Girl Scouts, homeless shelters and from many women who are interested in her program.   Her mission is “to encourage gals of all ages to “Get in Touch” with their bodies, information and each other in our crusade against breast cancer.” 

In 2004 at 39 years of age, Mary Ann was diagnosed with Stage 2 bilateral breast cancer.  I “know so many women now under 40 who have a similar story. There are 250 thousand diagnosed and 40 thousand a year die.  That number hasn’t changed. Education is so important and so is awareness of your body, so if you notice any changes in your body you are confident, strong and smart enough to get to the office.  You need to find a doctor who takes you seriously.” She’s been cancer free for six years.

After her email session she manages the social networking sites, the website, twitter, her e-newsletter, and Facebook. “Our Facebook site is very active and has been incredible. It’s unbelievable to me the level of contact through that. College and high school girls asking us how our program can be in their schools.  By looking at my own daughters I realized this is bigger than me.  This is even bigger than my daughters. It’s everyone’s daughters.” 

Still before 8am she takes her son to school, runs to the printer for a brochure, some flyers and daisy wheels, and then goes to the office. 

Last week she spoke to a group of high school girls at Bunnell High School in Stratford.  “They had the most incredible questions. The nurses there teach the program.  The girls knocked my socks off with some of the thoughtful and engaging things they asked.” Other high schools in her line up range from South Boston to Atlanta and back to Milford again with Laurelton Hall.  “No matter where I go these kids want to be healthy and make the right choices to be smart and strong”.

Mary Ann lets these young women know that, as a non-profit who works with health, there is much misinformation out there.  Just because a woman doesn’t have any breast cancer in their family they need to know that only 6% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have a history and that she had no family history. 

Recently she got back from Williamsburg VA, where she was the keynote speaker for the Virginia School Nurses Association conference.  “They wanted to hear about our program as well as focusing on wellness for the students and wellness for themselves.”

One of Mary Ann’s daughters entered her in a Pink Power Mom competition where she became one of eight women in the US to win $5000 for Get in Touch.  These women were selected for their inspirational fight against breast cancer, and they were honored for their courage. Something that I am finding with all the executive directors I am following for the day is that they are quick to list other women who have inspired them.  Mary Ann sites women like Nancy Brinker of Komen for the cure as one her mentors. “We women know we don’t do it alone”.   

It’s hard to believe she ever touches down in Milford for long. In Long Beach, CA for the California Women’s Conference she won a coveted publishing contract from Balboa Press, for her book  “A Diary of Healing,” which will come out in 2011.

“At the end the day, it’s about speaking to a women from Milford or Santa Monica who might have stumbled upon our website or viewed a video and who says ‘you saved my life.  I could not wrap my head around this.’  They see our Women of Strength video or the Diary of Healing pictures and that is exactly why I put that together. When I had that middle-of-the-night-panic and thought there was no where to go, there was no voice that said to me ‘this is really hard but you have to live thru it’. One of my favorite sayings by Winston Churchill is “if you’re going through hell, keep going.”

Mary Ann’s future work is to always be a voice for education and overall health. She’s there to encourage girls to make good decisions for their whole lives.  Her goal is to be able to say that when breast cancer existed organizations involved with breast cancer did a great job. That they eliminated the cause or cured it. There are incredible people working on this.   While they do that, she is going to continue to educate girls on being comfortable with their bodies and respecting themselves. She is also going to continue to be an inspiration to women who are dealing with the realities of breast cancer. 

“This is an emotional rollercoaster.  You have to live through it.  It’s the new normal.  I want women to know that you can be a bigger version of yourself.  It is hard.  Things scare me but I am realistic and optimistic. I don’t want to live anywhere else.” 

We are glad she feels that way.

For more information, please visit the Get in Touch Foundation website:


Unique Leadership:

The easiest form of running an NPO is to encourage or demand that people do more. Or another way to look at it is to go faster.

The most important and difficult form of management (verging on leadership) is to encourage people to do better.

Better is trickier than more or faster because people have trouble visualizing themselves doing better. It requires education and coaching and patience to create a team of people who are better.  Longer and more work for you, but in the long run, much more effective leadership for your NPO.

What ‘education’ can you set up today? Website usage? Facebook or Twitter tips? Public Speaking tips for your volunteers? Progressive marketing ideas and tips?

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