Partner Spotlight: Genentech

By: Julie "Bug Bite" Lefkowitz

First Descents is grateful to our dedicated partners, who generously collaborate with FD to fuel the healing power of adventure, and extend the FD experience to more young adults impacted by cancer.  First Descents will be spotlighting some of our incredible partners by sharing their stories on our Out Living It blog.  

Our first partner highlight feature comes from Genentech’s Julie “Bug Bite” Lefkowitz.  Genentech is one of First Descents’ longest standing funding partners, and in addition to charitable donations, they support our mission through employee volunteers who give their time, talent and passion to help grow our local presence.  Thank you, Bug Bite and Genentech!

I became involved with First Descents in 2015 when I was honored to participate in the Genentech FD kayaking program in Tarkio, Montana. This program recognizes employees nominated by peers based on volunteerism and giving back in their communities.  The four-day program allows this small group to better understand the support and community First Descents offers young adult cancer fighters and survivors.  View this video to see a little more about the impact of FD programs.

In Tarkio I was given the FD name of Bug Bite because the bugs LOVE to bite me. Before heading to there, I spoke to many Genentech First Descents alumni about their experiences and heard a common theme: “it will change your life.”  Now, when I speak to people attending their first FD experience, I also say it will be life changing…because it truly was. And First Descents continues to be life changing for me every day.

Since my trip to Tarkio, I have continued to support FD however possible. In May, I was thrilled to be “Camp Mom” for the Baltimore/DC local adventure weekend climbing in Seneca Rocks, West Virginia.  Going into the experience, I didn’t know what to expect from the weekend. I was both nervous and excited to be able to give back to this organization that I love and admire.

So, I packed up my Bug Bite hat and costume, and set off for West Virginia. It was an amazing adventure from the very start, driving down windy back roads through a raging thunderstorm, ultimately arriving at our lovely cabin in the woods. I was warmly welcomed by Dizzy and Corduroy who had done the heavy lifting getting ready, and we did some final prep for the arrival of the participants.

Then the fun began.

There were twelve of us all together in an amazing log cabin in the West Virginia wilderness for a shared experience.  My role as Camp Mom was very similar to my everyday role as a Mom: doing whatever needed to be done, working in the kitchen, making sure everyone had the things they needed, being number one cheerleader, and air kissing any boo boos. You know it is going to be a good weekend when you line up five gallons of ice cream and sundae toppings for the dessert bar each night. Moms never let anyone go hungry!

Early Saturday morning we headed to Seneca Rocks to meet our three climbing guides, who proudly earned their FD names by the end of the day!  The climbing was amazing. We had a few very seasoned FD alumni that made it look easy for those out on the rocks for the first time.  EVERYONE pushed themselves and reached higher than they ever thought possible. The sheer determination and sense of accomplishment felt by all was palpable within the group. For me, the best part of the weekend was seeing that within just 24 hours of a First Descents program, people were already having a life changing experience. You could tell by the look in their eyes and the way they stood that they felt empowered, proud, strong and happy.

On Saturday evening we enjoyed another fabulous meal in an amazing setting on the back deck overlooking the forests. We all laughed until our ribs hurt and shed tears of joy throughout the weekend. We shared stories and deepened our bonds of friendship that evening.

Sunday morning as we packed to head back to our everyday lives, we knew we had all changed physically and mentally.  We had broadened our support team and gained some great friendships.

Words cannot express how much I enjoy my involvement with First Descents and my appreciation of the ability to give back. FD’s mantra has been ingrained in my spirit, and in the members of our tribe. Everyday, let’s all embrace adventuring on and get out living it.

Julie (Bug Bite) Lefkowitz is from Baltimore, Maryland.  Julie is a nurse by background and has felt the impact of cancer both professionally and through personal family experience. She believes you need to heal the whole person both physically and mentally. When not working or volunteering, Julie can be found trying to keep up with her husband and two sons who all share her passion for adventuring on the trails, rivers and rocks. 

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