Kolavennu ready to take reins at Wellness House
Last updated 12/30/2019 at 8:57pm | View PDF
It was about 14 years ago when Lisa Kolavennu's father was diagnosed with cancer. In walking that journey with him, she discovered Wellness House and, along with it, her vocational calling.
"His experience inspired my own passion for wanting to help the oncology population," Kolavennu said. "It felt personally and professionally gratifying for me to move to Wellness House and start a career here."
More than a dozen years after launching that career as a program director with the Hinsdale nonprofit, she has now become its executive director.
"I'm thrilled for the opportunity to step into this role. This is something that I worked toward and have wanted to do. It feels like the right fit for me," she related.
Kolavennu praised the mentorship of her predecessor, Jeannie Cella, in helping her prepare for the task.
"I think that we have had a really amazing transition process," she said. "(Jeannie's) been very mindful and thoughtful about putting Wellness House in a great position for the future."
Kolavennu's own leadership role within the agency has helped advance its mission.
"We've doubled in terms of the number of people that we serve every year," she said. "We've continued to meticulously choose programs that are evidence-based and have value to anybody that is affected by cancer."
Kolavennu earned a master's degree in counseling psychology and spent several years as a program manager at The Children's Place Association, helping kids and families break the cycles of poverty and illness, before joining Wellness House.
"Pretty much my entire career has been working with individuals who are facing life-threatening illness," she said.
Wellness House's effort to extend its programming into less affluent communities through partner organizations has been particularly heartening for her.
"People who don't have access to these (resources) tend to have poorer health outcomes," she said. "Thinking about equitable access for people in all communities in the Chicagoland area is important to us."
Kolavennu makes her home in Downers Grove with her husband and three children ages 13 to 6. Weekends, needless to say, are action-packed.
"We're always on the sideline of a sports game or a competition or a dance performance or a musical. But I actually love that," she said.
With her introduction to motherhood nearly coinciding with her arrival at Wellness House, her kids have grown up seeing the benefits the organization provides.
"They have friends whose families use Wellness House," she said.
Kolavennu said Wellness House clients become like family, sharing the joys and the pain.
"Everyone who works here has a front row seat to loss and trauma. At the same time, there's a great sense of hope and community and encouragement," she said. "We know that it continues to be impactful for people and make a difference in their lives."