Silpada helps bring cancer fundraiser to Kansas City

07/22/2013 1:43 PM

07/22/2013 2:08 PM

The word traveled quickly through the well-oiled Silpada pipeline a few months ago: Teresa Walsh, one of the co-founders of the Lenexa jewelry company, has cancer in her lower jaw.

The sisterhood of more than 32,000 sales reps rallied, sending her well wishes and some selling jewelry to raise money for cancer causes.

“I have been so blessed to be surrounded by a wonderful support system, my husband and children, but also my Silpada family,” Walsh, who is currently being treated, said via email.

There is much to celebrate when that army of women lands in Kansas City on Thursday for the company’s annual convention. Walsh, her Silpada co-founder Bonnie Kelly and their families just bought back the company from Avon for $85 million.

But Walsh’s illness won’t be far from mind, either.

On Sunday, Silpada will throw its name and marketing muscle behind a cancer cause new to Kansas City. The company has teamed up with Living Beyond Breast Cancer, a national nonprofit in Philadelphia that provides education and support to breast cancer patients and the people in their lives.

Every year the volunteer-led group throws an outdoor fundraiser, Yoga on the Steps, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the building where Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa famously ran up the steps.

Silpada will help the group throw a similar event Sunday morning at Barney Allis Plaza, just blocks from its convention at the Kansas City Convention Center.

Living Beyond Breast Cancer began making the connection between yoga and cancer patients more than a decade ago when a Philadelphia patient started hosting classes in her home as part of her recovery. She invited other patients she had met at her chemotherapy sessions.

“All the women were so excited about what yoga was doing,” said Kevin Gianotto, the group’s associate director for marketing and corporate partnerships.

“It helped them feel more centered, feel more relaxed and eased the tension that they felt, especially that fear of the cancer recurring.”

That yoga bunch approached his group and suggested a yoga-centered fundraiser. The first event attracted fewer than 100 women. In May, the event in Philadelphia attracted 1,700 participants, the most ever, and raised more than $271,000.

The yoga event is structured like other charity walks and runs. Participants are encouraged to pre-register by forming or joining a team and collecting donations.

The charity also hosts Yoga on the Steps fundraisers in Denver and Washington, D.C., where participants do downward facing dog poses in front of the Washington Monument. Over the next 10 years the group hopes to introduce the event to a major city each year.

“The one thing that I am so joyful about when I leave this event is the feeling of electricity that it generates,” Gianotto said. “For women to see other women who have been going through the same thing that they are I think it’s that feeling of empowerment.”

That’s exactly what attracted Silpada, said Kelsey Perry, the company’s newly appointed co-president and Teresa Walsh’s daughter.

“What stood out to us immediately was the empowerment mission of Living Beyond Breast Cancer and the synergy that has with Silpada and the sistership,” Perry said.

“That is so representative of not only the culture of Silpada but also our national conference. We call it the biggest girlfriend weekend ever, and part of being with your girlfriend is supporting them.”

Silpada reps have been encouraged to stick around for the Sunday event; their convention ends Saturday night.

Cancer causes have been close to Teresa Walsh’s heart. Having watched her father deal with the disease at the University of Kansas Hospital, she and her KU-graduate husband, Tom, have donated more than $4 million to cancer programs there in recent years.

Walsh, in her fourth week of treatment, has indicated to family that she will be at this week’s convention to celebrate with the company’s reps, “our girls,” she calls them.

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