By Dayna Kerecman Myers
We’re very excited to introduce our new communications director, Vanessa Merina. From handling communications for the University of Wisconsin Law School, to establishing an intercultural nonprofit and teaching creative writing workshops in Bordeaux, France, to heading up the Asian American Film Festival program at the Wisconsin Film Festival, Vanessa brings an intriguing array of experiences, talents, and interests to the Blood Center. Her love of writing and helping people share their stories compellingly is a common thread in all of her experiences.
A native of Southern California (Redondo Beach), Vanessa started writing stories in elementary school. Words run in her family; her father and brother are both journalists, and her mother is a library administrator. Nearly a decade ago, realizing with a group of work friends how much they loved writing but had little time, she launched a writers group. The stories she wrote there led her into a graduate creative writing program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. There, she rediscovered narrative — what she considers the telling and retelling of events in a compelling way. After graduating, Vanessa realized that what she had been doing all along as a communications worker drew on this narrative. She commented, “It was great to realize that these two parts of me—the creative and the professional—could come together productively.”
One of her favorite projects, a digital storytelling project with Madison-based immigrant youth, captured this philosophy perfectly. These students had powerful stories and were looking for ways to express them. She gathered with students and volunteer teachers for two semesters to craft their stories through spoken word, visual art and writing. Vanessa said, “Eventually we produced a printed anthology and a ‘Telling Our Stories’ website, which many of the students shared with their families and communities. I’ve been involved in a lot of gratifying projects, but this was one of the highlights.”
Travel and hiking are other passions for Vanessa. For hiking spots, she tends to be drawn more to the sentimental connection of a place more than its physical challenges. She recently hiked up mountains on the Batanes Islands of the Philippines, where her father’s family is from.
Vanessa also enjoys collecting old cookbooks and reinventing recipes. One of her greatest finds remains a book she found in a used bookstore for 99 cents — a collection of recipes by the friends, relatives and employees of a drug store in South Dakota. As for reinventions, Vanessa’s family grew up with a huge avocado tree out back, and avocados remain one of her favorite foods/obsessions. She’s always looking for innovative ways to include them in dishes: as a base in pies (with lemon, cream and sugar), grilled with veggies or used as an ice cream base with coconut milk.
Vanessa is already sharing the same spirit of innovation, creativity, and fun with Stanford Blood Center, and we hope our community will join us in giving her a warm welcome.