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Tania is currently the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of The Hudsucker, and Senior Editor at the Nashville, Tennessee based PopCulture.com. With past writing and editing credits with Womanista, Quietly, the International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF) and NBC Newsvine, she is currently a member of Indianapolis based, Society of Professional Journalists — one of the oldest organizations in the U.S. that promotes and represents journalists. She is an avid Indianapolis Colts, Elvis Presley and baseball fan as well as a lover of pancakes and fine cheeses, film, and music. Tania is a Hoosier at heart with a passionate wanderlust for always traveling and giving back to those in her community. She is currently studying at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Follow Tania on Twitter: @westlifebunny.

Maureen Van Zandt: Making a Difference, One Charity at a Time

Reflect upon your present blessings—of which every man has many—not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.
Charles Dickens

Van Zandt speaking at The 6th Annual Little Kids Rock Benefit in NYC, October 23, 2014. {Image Credit: Mike Coppola/Getty Images}

Throughout our lifetime, we have all been affected by cancer in some way, whether it’s through a family member, a friend, co-worker, acquaintance, mentor—or even ourselves. Cancer does not discriminate and has now become one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Today, there are more than a 100 types of active cancers characterized by abnormal cell growth, one of them being brain cancer.

At present there are nearly 700,000 people in the United States living with primary brain tumors, with an additional 69,000 more to be diagnosed later this year. While it is unknown what causes these cancers of the brain, there are currently more than 120 different types affecting patients with only four FDA approved treatments available.

Doing right for others means doing right for ourselves, and actress and philanthropist Maureen Van Zandt does just that. Spending much of her life bringing awareness for charities and causes in dire need of attention, Van Zandt is altruistic and warmhearted when it comes to helping others. This month, the multi-talented artist is raising money for brain cancer research through the best way she knows how—a charity dinner auction.

Each year in the nation’s capital, The Race for Hope DC takes place in hopes to raise funds for brain cancer research and fight the battle against brain tumors. Since its inception, the race has raised over $22.5 million and regarded as one of the largest fundraisers in the country benefiting the brain tumor community. With proceeds of the race going to support the National Brain Tumor Society and Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure (ABC2), both organizations are committed to funding and providing cutting-edge research to eliminate brain cancers and tumors. This common bond means implementing changes in the system on all levels. With the help of donations and community fundraising, together we can create a real impact and construct a healthier future.

David Cook’s Team for Cure in the 2014 Race for Hope DC 5K. {Image Credit: Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure}

Since 2009, singer and songwriter David Cook has been the leader of one of the top fundraising teams taking part in The Race for Hope DC’s 5K run. As the team pledges to raise awareness and fund-raise before May 3, Maureen Van Zandt knew this was an opportunity to help out that she couldn’t pass up.

On May 4, Van Zandt and her husband Steven of the legendary E Street Band will join the former American Idol winner at a charity dinner party in New York City. With hopes to raise awareness and bring attention to brain cancer and tumor research, the three of them created a dinner auction this past March with all proceeds benefiting David Cook’s Team for a Cure in The Race for Hope DC event helping to generate further funding for ABC2 and The National Tumor Society. It’s an event Van Zandt is most excited about and extremely supportive of.

“It’s a cause very dear to David’s heart,” Van Zandt says. “He has participated in numerous fundraising events on their behalf. His fans have been incredibly generous too, and supportive of his efforts and commitment to this cause.”

Though it has been six years since his beloved older brother Adam’s passing, Cook has subsequently become a champion for brain cancer research, with helping to raise more than $1 million through various charitable ventures. Evidently proud of his efforts and the time he takes out for others, Van Zandt first found out about the cause through Cook.

“There’s a sort of full-circle connection going on here,” she says. “When David ended up in the American Idol finale in 2008, I heard about an effort to finance transporting his brother Adam to the finale in Los Angeles. Adam had brain cancer and needed special travel accommodations. I was not only a big fan of David’s work on the show, but there was a certain sensitivity about him that touched my heart and I wanted to help.”

Van Zandt goes on to share how she and her husband donated tickets and passes to a few Bruce Springsteen shows and raised money for the efforts. “Several months later, we met David and became friends over the years,” she says. “So what brought us to meet in the first place is very much connected to our doing this dinner.”

She articulates how it is an honor and privilege to be in a position where she can help others and dedicate her time to worthy causes. Van Zandt discloses how the idea of donating a dinner started with her being involved with the wonderful and musical, Little Kids Rock organization.

Maureen and husband Steven Van Zandt rocking it out at Little Kids Rock 10th Anniversary Celebration with Idol alum, Kris Allen and the late Michael Johns. {Image Credit: Mike Pont/Getty Images}

With Little Kids Rock ensuring that every student has an equal opportunity to unlock his or her inner music-maker, the organization provides musical instruments and instruction to underprivileged children in schools all over the country. Van Zandt discloses how she arranges a yearly fundraiser for the organization, which she and her husband have co-produced for the last three years.

Instead of donating money, the enterprising and personable philanthropist came up with the idea of dining with others. “I’ve always believed that material things come and go, but a great experience stays with you forever. I thought this could be a fun evening to offer people who might be ‘Sopranos’ fans or E Street fans, or just people who might find it interesting to hang out with lunatics like us,” she laughs.

When the dinner auction was first offered, Van Zandt shares how Lady Gaga won the winning bid with a whopping $13,000. It became one of the most popular items on the auction block, helping catapult funding for the organization—a formula that clearly worked well for aiding the cause. “We’ve always had a great time with winners who have all turned out to be terrific people,” she says. “Instead of just writing a check to David’s team, we decided to do something different and offer a fun evening [in its place].”

While the dinner’s specific location in New York City is not revealed, Van Zandt promises a fun night ahead as the winning bidder can expect just about anything that evening. “You never know what the chemistry will be with a particular group of people, but I feel safe in saying it will be a night of interesting conversation, a lot of laughs, great food, a beautiful atmosphere, and impeccable wine selection by the two connoisseurs, Steven and David,” she says.

Van Zandt hints at an exciting and fun—maybe wild—night, sharing how there could also very well be some dancing on the table. “I think—and hope, it will also be a memorable and intimate evening for fans [and] supporters who may not otherwise get the opportunity to hang out with musicians they admire, ask questions and converse in a relaxed setting.”

Though not everyone will be able to attend the dinner come May 4, and only one winner will have the chance to dine with Cook and the Van Zandts, she shares how it is extremely important to give back in whatever way we can.

Maureen and husband, Steven Van Zandt at the 54th Annual Grammy Awards. The Van Zandts will be joining David Cook in NYC for a charity dinner on May 4. {Image Credit: AP Photo/Chris Pizzello}

“Sorry for sounding so pessimistic,” Van Zandt begins, “But I feel our society is doomed if we don’t learn to give back. The world is in the sad shape it’s in because of selfishness, greed, lack of compassion, [and] lack of tolerance. We don’t respect other humans, we certainly don’t respect animals, and we don’t respect the planet. Yes, I know I’m just an ‘old hippie’ but I think making a difference in the life of even one person makes things better than they were before.”

Van Zandt references The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” album when it comes to giving back, sharing, “What the Beatles sang at the end of [that] album is true. ‘And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.’ I wish more people would listen.”

When she’s not hosting charity dinners and giving her time to causes, Van Zandt is a productive and hard-working performer in the theatrical community. Though best known for her work on HBO’s The Sopranos, she is co-artistic director and founder of the Renegade Theatre Company in New York City. Since 2006, Van Zandt has had the opportunity to act, produce, and direct a number of productions and this year is no different.

“I’ll be acting in [our theatre’s] production of Marlon Brando Sat Right Here this Spring, and will be producing and directing some of the company’s other projects,” she shares. In addition to her theatrical ventures, Van Zandt reveals that she has a fun role in the independent romantic comedy, Dan and Carla with shooting beginning this May. Though she’s excited for filming, she hopes to get back at work with her 1960s styled dance group, Garage Girls a Go-Go, adding, “There’s nothing I love more.”

It is obvious through all her efforts and the time she spends helping others that Van Zandt has a beautiful and heartwarming disposition on life. In many ways, she’s understood that the meaning of life is to find your gift, while the purpose is to share it with others. Van Zandt goes on to say how she has learned much about herself through the act of raising awareness and helping others.

Van Zandt as Gabriella Dante in The Sopranos. {Image Credit: HBO}

“I’ve learned to be grateful for all I have, and to look outside of my own self-absorbed little world. I’ve learned that you’re not losing anything by giving it away—that if I don’t use whatever I’ve been given—be it material possessions, knowledge, talents, etcetera, to help others, then I will never fulfill my potential whatever that is,” she says.

Van Zandt admits feeling inspired one night while watching someone on late-night television say, ‘When your cup runneth over, start pouring.’

“Maybe it was because it was late at night and my defenses were down, but it struck me like a lightning bolt. I try to remember that every day,” she says. “When you have everything you need and everything you want, there’s only one thing to do: Pour, baby, pour!”

From everything Van Zandt has shared and done throughout her career with helping others and raising awareness, it’s important to know that none of us would be where we are without the efforts made by others. Van Zandt is the perfect example of someone who is not only finding herself through the service of others, but a true leader guiding others to be inspired, dream more, learn more, and ultimately, become more.

* * * * *

If you would like to donate to the charity dinner and dine with Maureen, Steven and David, be sure to check out their official CharityBuzz page. The auction closes March 31st at 3pm ET.

Keep up with Maureen Van Zandt on Twitter, @MVZaGoGo

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