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90 in 90: Cathy Kanefsky, Food Bank of Delaware

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My husband and I have raised three sons, including twins who have autism, cerebral palsy, and epilepsy. In 2018, Sam had a brain stem stroke. He came home in a wheelchair with a feeding tube. Once Sam was home, his twin Adam experienced extreme rage and uncontrollable behavior, caused by a chemical reaction triggered by PTSD. Intense treatment with help from a pharmacological psychiatrist helped bring him back to us.

Cathy Kanefsky | PHOTO COURTESY OF KATIE TABELING

Our experiences might break some, but I am proud to say not us. That is why I cling to hope and live my life with optimism.

Work hard and play hard.

Life is short. Be silly. Laugh. Have fun. Reflecting on my career – every single job brings back memories of laughing with someone. The kind of laughing that makes your stomach hurt. Those memories often surpass the stress of meeting goals – goals that, more often than not, we managed to achieve.

Find your purpose.

When the morning brings a pit in your stomach, it’s a sign for change. Rediscover your purpose again and again. As your circumstances change, you might need to reevaluate your purpose. Your values, however, should remain constant. NEVER let someone challenge them.

Work Life Fitwhen one is off-kilter, everything is

I went back to work part-time when my twins were three. They started preschool for children with special needs and my son Stephen started daycare. Within months, I became the Executive Director and began a professional career in mission-based organizations fueled by my personal experiences.

I credit my boss with insisting one of my goals was “Maintain a healthy work/life balance.” I remember her saying, “you have a full plate at home and a big job at work. When one aspect is off-kilter, everything is off-kilter.” She insisted I evaluate myself on that every year. That experience helped me as an employee and as a leader. Balance is harder and harder to achieve these days and having the ability to recognize that is crucial.

A stranger is just a friend you haven’t met

I love meeting people. I actually like to attend an event by myself. While my initial network in Delaware was extensive, my guess is I didn’t know 80% of the people I now interact with regularly.

Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right

My sister beat cancer when the odds were stacked against her. Her doctor credited her attitude. My son Sam walks without assistance and eats and drinks whatever he wants. He never considered the alternative.

This Henry Ford quote encapsulates the profound impact that one’s mindset can have on success or failure. It serves as a reminder that cultivating a positive outlook contributes significantly to overcoming obstacles.

Lead with humility and grace

Joining the international organization Autism Speaks in 2009, my boss highlighted humility, grace, and acumen in my first review. These qualities became the pillars of my leadership style. Leading with humility fosters collaboration and navigating challenges with grace ensures a positive impact.

Everything happens for a reason

Accept and embrace our fate with grace and humility. Fighting it is exhausting and most often, futile. I realize this phrase stings for many people, and I get that. For me, it’s the only way to make sense of my experiences.

Use social media to maintain relationships

Facebook and LinkedIn are invaluable for establishing and sustaining connections. A single post can resonate across various facets of life, eliciting responses from childhood friends to new business contacts. Social media is a bridge, maintaining and strengthening relationships. 

Know your audience and adjust your message accordingly

Adjust your communication style based on context, whether you’re at the “kids table” or in a meeting with legislators, to demonstrate versatility and understanding. Avoid assuming that others are familiar with the inner workings of your organization. Embrace every opportunity to share challenges and invite others to contribute to the solutions.

WWHD

My Dad’s name was Herb. The never-ending line of people at my Dad’s funeral solidified what I already knew. My dad treated people fairly. He was kind and respected. I often think of how he would have handled a situation and let that guide my actions.

Cathy Kanefsky is the president and CEO of the Food Bank of Delaware.

 

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