The young and brilliant community leader and philanthropist, Kasia Iwaniczko MacLeod, is powered by hope, strength, and her daily mantra: "choosing service over self-interest." Born in Poland, Kasia's brave parents made a commitment, no matter what the cost, to give their children a chance for a better future than they had in (at that time) a communist country. So at age 6, the "American Dream" became a reality for Kasia and her family.
During college, Kasia started getting involved in public service as the first female Student Body President at Colorado Mesa University where she also served as a lobbyist for the State Colleges of Colorado. Kasia continued to be active in politics and moved to Washington D.C. to develop her career in the corporate world, developing, launching and branding new products in telecommunications, professional services, application/hosting services and healthcare software.
Bringing all of her corporate and D.C. experience back to Colorado, she became involved in community service working with organizations such as CultureHaus, a support group of the Denver Art Museum founded by Governor John Hickenlooper, New Genesis, a transitional community for the working homeless, Children’s Hospital, the Denver Health Foundation’s Level One Society Board of Directors, and the Denver Scholarship Foundation’s “Friends of Ed” & Special Events Committees such as “An Evening with George Will”, raising over $1.45 million, and “An Evening with Mayor Michael Bloomberg” which raised over $2 million, “An Evening with Cokie Roberts,” raising $1.45 million – and so many more nonprofit events, it really could take pages…
She was one of the founders of (at the time) Gubernatorial candidate John Hickenlooper’s young professionals campaign initiatives, “In the Loop” – generating the momentum and campaign win in 2010; and she has been asked to Co-Chair one of Governor John Hickenlooper’s 2014 Gubernatorial Re-Election “In the Loop” Committees. Kasia recently, for the second year in a row, was a Co-Chair for the 2013 Excelsior Youth Center “Triumphant Woman Gala” with entertainment by the Pointer Sisters raising over $400K for young women in need. It’s also Kasia’s second year Co-Chairing the 2013 University of Colorado Cancer Center Fund’s “Cocktails for a Cure” (a women’s only event) at the McNichols Building in Civic Center Park, benefitting Women’s Cancer Research for the University of Colorado Hospital Anschutz Cancer Center, this Thursday, March 7th (To learn more about the event, go to: www.blacktie-colorado.com “Calendar”).
14 years ago came the biggest life-changing challenge of Kasia’s young life when she overcame cervical cancer, and after that, fought two bouts with breast cancer. The courageous Kasia realized that these were turning points in her life and said “It gave me perspective into what was important.” She started her own consulting firm 5280 Consulting Group and is as motivated and passionate as ever to give back to her community – and her country. She also married the “love of her life” David MacLeod in a beautiful mountain wedding at the Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch almost two years ago.
Helping organizations in any way she can to find a cure for cancer is high on Kasia's list - especially since she lost both of her beloved parents to the disease in the last several years. This courageous and remarkable woman - still in her 30’s - is truly destined for greatness. When winning the “Sawaya Value Awards for Freedom Award”, Attorney, Michael Sawaya said: "Kasia has made the most of her freedom by giving back and doing immense and wonderful things for this country."
She’s sophisticated, charismatic, big-hearted, carries herself beautifully and respectfully in the community - and can light up any room. Don’t be surprised if the name “Kasia” becomes a (one word) name as famous as: Cher, Madonna - or Beyonce!
When did you first know you wanted to become involved in community service/affairs? After coming with virtually nothing from a communist regime to this country, we were blessed by the riches and opportunities America offered us. My family got to live the proverbial “American Dream”- a life far beyond anything we could have imagined. There is an expression “to those to whom much has been given, much is expected.” I feel that this country in particular has given me much, and even in middle and high school I recognized the obligation and the opportunity to give back; whether it was working on school fundraisers, as a student leader in high school, as the first female student body president at Colorado Mesa University, or as a young appointee to the US Civil Rights Commission, I have always sought out opportunities to help others. In college I began a career as a Political Scientist, so my love affair of public service started quite early and before I knew it would be my true life’s passion. In some respect I have always felt motivated and inspired by when John F. Kennedy’s call to a generation to be involved in something larger and better than themselves.
I love your mantra “choose service over self-interest.” How do we get others to commit to this way of thinking? My commitment and goal is to strive to be a good example in the community. The work I do volunteering, chairing, connecting – shouldn’t be about any one individual, but about everyone and the overall goal of the effort or organization. We can all connect with some organization or effort, but the important thing is about then instilling in others the passion to share oneself. Serving others. above anything else, is truly the most important act, the most generous gift one can give. It’s not always easy, but it is the most rewarding thing a person can do, and it always is meaningful to those we help.
Tell us about your upcoming event Cocktails for a Cure? The 4th Annual “Cocktails for a Cure” raises funds for research and treatment programs for women’s cancers at the University of Colorado Cancer Center, the only National Cancer Institute designated comprehensive cancer center in Colorado. The CU Cancer Center Fund is the primary fundraising arm for the University of Colorado Cancer Center. All funds raised through the CU Cancer Center Fund remain in the community and support research and treatment at the University of Colorado Cancer Center. My Event Co-Chair, Kelly Ford and I have taken this project to heart. Kelly’s mother-in-law passed away from ovarian cancer and this last September, my mother lost her four year battle to the same disease. After being a cervical and two-time breast cancer survivor myself, all before the age of 32, I’m more passionate than ever to move the research further along. This year our event committee had the distinct honor to help select the three areas of research which would receive the event funding. The committee selected Dr. Laxmi A. Kondapalli: One of only a few in the country, her oncofertility program is a service-based research program and differentiates us from other Cancer Centers; Dr. Jennifer Richer: Ovarian and Cervical Cancer Research; and Dr. Heide Ford: Program leader for hormonal related malignancies.
We’re very lucky to receive a financial match for our event from the Salah Foundation. So if we raise a dollar, they match that dollar. We are honored to have been chosen by this foundation for the second consecutive year. I encourage each woman to make Thursday, March 7th from 6-9pm a girl’s night out to support woman’s cancer research. Tickets are available at www.cucancercenterfund.org, select “events” from the menu!
What was life living in Washington D.C. like? High points, not so high points?
Fast, fun and the best life lessons a 22 year old could ever experience. Truly, it was almost a decade of growing up, making life-long friends, and watching history in the making. My experiences in D.C. as a young woman in my 20s, taught me how to be strong, focused, passionate and thoughtful. I will always consider it a second home. I’m not sure it had low points for me, except if you consider it wasn’t in Colorado!
My goodness, Kasia, I’ve never seen anyone as young as you are rack up so many awards and recognitions, how does all of this make you feel? You are still so humble and it doesn’t to appear to have “gone to your head.” Frankly, awards and recognition are incredibly humbling indeed. I’m not always comfortable in that skin, so I do a great deal of reflecting back the accolades to where I think they belong. Don’t get me wrong – I’m immensely grateful for the kindness of being recognized, but it is also a foreign language I haven’t mastered. The awards and recognition are a by-product of the work I do – they are certainly not part of the goal; in fact, they make me feel quite awkward. I would much rather the focus be on the causes that I support ant the people those organizations help – they are the real heroes and honorees!
You are so focused and disciplined - any advice on how best to emulate you?
I’m not in support of ever emulating anyone. It’s important for each individual to learn what’s most important to them personally, what they feel connected to or passionate about in life. This is ultimately the best driver, and naturally causes you to be focused and disciplined.
There is so much abundance in our country, that those who are lucky to be entitled and have wealth might take what they have for granted. What can be done to help change their perspective that not everyone is so lucky? Sadly, there are an incredible number of people and organizations in this country that continue to maintain a sense of entitlement. I’m an immigrant. My family arrived here from communist Poland with nothing but what would fit into one small suitcase. I remember the overwhelming sense of awe when we first walked into a grocery store, and were amazed at the abundance! My parents moved us here because of the many opportunities that exist to create your own version of the American dream. We have been blessed with good fortune and success, but there are so many out there that truly need our help and it is our personal accountability, our collective duty as a country, and our responsibility as humankind to help those in need, so that ultimately they are able to help themselves. I would encourage those more fortunate to be more thoughtful, humble, and reflective and to give and act accordingly.
You and your family came here with a one way ticket to escape Communism in Poland? You talk about arriving in New York and seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time. What was going through your young 6 year old mind? I was in awe. As we circled the airport, I couldn’t take my eyes off of the Statue of Liberty. America was so big and colorful. I suppose to this day, I still feel this way. Each time I land in New York, I can’t take my eyes off of her, and her promise of freedom and opportunity; the “American dream” that my parents wanted for their children. I’ve lived in America for 33 years and became a naturalized citizen 27 years ago. This is an incredibly amazing country, and it’s only as good as the people within it.
How did you and your wonderful husband David meet? David and I both worked at a healthcare software company. We knew of one another but hadn’t formally met until we were sent to the convention capitol of the world – Orlando. I actually wasn’t supposed to go on this trip, but my boss was called away so I took his place. David was speaking at the conference and I was the marketing/sales support for existing customers. We had a dinner scheduled which included us both along with the sales team. The sales folks were called away to meet customers and David and I were left standing in the lobby so we went to dinner. We were one of the first couple of people to arrive in the restaurant and five hours later, we were the last ones closing it down. Eight months later, we took a weekend trip to another magical place, the Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch and got engaged. A year after our engagement, we went back to the magical place and got married. This May we’ll celebrate two incredibly special years of marriage. I can’t imagine my life without him.
Cancer has been something you and several of your family members have had to endure. Is that your number one priority as far as fundraising? I am a three time cancer survivor, and sadly lost both my parents after they fought valiant battles with this hideous disease. It is even sadder to think that if some of the research programs that are producing results now, had been better funded just 2 short years ago, my mother would likely still be with us today! So yes, fundraising for cancer research is a key focus for me. However, I’m also incredibly passionate about women’s initiatives, post-secondary education aid for the less fortunate, mental health & children’s initiatives. These are areas of focus that help me get out of bed every day!
You and your Mom were so close. She fought such a courageous battle fighting her cancer, but passed away last year. Do you see signs of cancer being a thing of the past, or do they have a long way to go yet? A part of me died with my mother. She was the true epitome of courage and strength. I miss her immensely. My mom didn’t have to die had there been more funding for ovarian cancer research. There are so many incredibly talented oncologists spending an incredible amount of time applying for grants and research funding, when they should be in the labs honing in on those next steps to cancer treatments. Sadly, I don’t believe cancer will be “a thing of the past” anytime soon, not because it cannot be, but because we fail to commit ourselves to its demise. There is a tremendous amount of work to be done in terms of awareness, fundraising, research…did I mention fundraising?
What is your greatest indulgence? Just one thing….shoes….and maybe handbags. Okay, that’s two.
Best gift you ever gave? Best gift ever given to you? My husband continues to remind me about the sentimentality of gift giving. One the cherished gifts I’ve given and received happened to be the ones David and I exchanged on our wedding day. Without knowing what the other was giving that day, we ended up giving each other engraved watches.
What is something nobody knows about you? During my younger years, I was beginning classical opera training. Now I just sing in the car.
You are always so upbeat with a beautiful smile on your face. How do you stay so positive? Growing up, my father was a total jokester. So we were always encouraged to smile; to set our problems aside at times and put a smile on our face. I take great joy in seeing people happy, so I believe if I smile, I might get one right back.
If you have time for books and movies - what's the most recent book you've read and your favorite movie of the year? I’m a really big fan of Paul Ekman, who a renowned expert in emotions research and nonverbal communication. I’ve really enjoyed his book, “Telling Lies.” It describes how people have inherent “tells” in our facial expressions, in how we hold our bodies as to whether we are being honest or not. It’s fascinating!
What is the best advice your Mom/Dad ever gave you? It’s not so much advice as these life lessons...”We start and end with family.” Although, we are incredibly tough on one another, we would give up our lives for one another. Above all, I’ve been taught to endure.
How do you want people to remember Kasia Iwaniczko MacLeod? That I was smart, witty, kind, loving, generous, loving, funny, humble, and that I made a positive difference – that I left the world a little better than I found it.