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Director, reality star speak at leadership camp

By Melissa Holman
On June 20, 2012

  • Reality star Diem Brown speaks to LGLA campers during the closing ceremony on June 13.

The closing ceremony of the Louisiana Girls Leadership Academy, held June 13 in the University's cotillion ballroom, focused on empowering women to overcome obstacles of varying degrees.
"Light a woman a fire and she will be warm for a night. Light a woman on fire, and she will be warm all her life," Laura Badeaux, director of the Louisiana Center for Women and Government, said during her speech about the mission of the center. "That's what the [center] does - it lights women on fire in responsible leadership, responsible citizenship, political competence, public policy education, and a commitment to public service."
The center, which Badeaux said is the largest programming center for women in the nation and provides ten leadership programs for Louisiana women, took a major cut in funding for the next fiscal year, reducing the operating budget from $275,000 to $50,000.
"It is no longer funded in a state that is second to last in the number of women elected to public office," Badeaux explained. "That is a crime. We have to find more private funding."
If the center cannot garner enough private funding, the doors will likely close sometime in the 2012-2013 year.
The academy participants also listened to MTV reality star and entertainment reporter Diem Brown's inspiring story about her battle with cancer.
 Following the loss of her mother while in college, Brown, 23 at the time, appeared on "MTV's Real World/Road Rules Challenge: Fresh Meat" in 2006, in an effort to cope with the traumatic event. Secretly, she also coped with her diagnosis of ovarian cancer, which she found out she had during training for the show. Instead of telling the producers about her diagnosis, she went on the show and did her "bucket list," eventually revealing her illness to her teammate Derrick Kosinski when he asked her during an episode of the show, "is there anything you're afraid of?"
 Despite this obstacle, Brown said she learned how to manage and find some good in the situation.
"The goal in life is to be able to learn how to adapt," Brown explained. "That is for everything...but to adapt, you also need to first have a goal. The goal could be a week from now, five years from now, it could be tomorrow, but setting these certain goals for yourself in your mind will make you get to where you want to be."
While going through chemotherapy following the show, Brown's friends and family constantly asked how they could help. At the time, she was also receiving gift registries from friends getting married or having babies and the idea "clicked."
Though she knew nothing about creating a website, Brown bought an HTML for Dummies book and eventually created an online gift registry for patients with illnesses like cancer, as well as patients suffering from trauma such as car accidents and heart attacks. She was now also able to accept help from friends who gave her enough support to purchase a high-quality wig, an item very important to her at the time. Within the first year, without advertising, Brown's registry, known at the time as Live for the Challenge, helped over one hundred thousandfamilies.  
Now, the website creates a social networking community for patients and allows them to set up gift registries for everything from prayers to assistance with medical expenses.
Six years after the registry's creation, Brown now faces another obstacle - she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer again on June 4.
"Cancer sucks. But cancer was the way that I found this idea," Brown, now 30, said.
In the face of the diagnosis, Brown's new goal is to get MedGift into every hospital across the country.
"We all have roadblocks but that's why you have to adapt. You have to adapt and make it something better."          

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