Fashion icon has press conference about foundation


Donna Karan founder of the Urban Zen Foundation speaks at the Student Center on March 5. Karan was discussing the benefits of the new program for nursing students. Photo by Brian Smith.

Danielle DeBord

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The crowd in the Student Center waited anxiously for fashion icon Donna Karan to arrive at a press conference Monday afternoon.

President Lester Lefton and Laura Dzurec, dean of the College of Nursing, welcomed Karan.

“We are delighted to find a great partner in Donna Karan and her Urban Zen Foundation,” Lefton told the audience.

But Karan, who’s widely known for DKNY and Donna Karan New York, wasn’t speaking about one of her popular clothing lines.

Rather, she addressed the audience on her philanthropic venture, the Urban Zen Foundation, which has collaborated with Kent State’s College of Nursing for the past two years on a program called “Care of the Caregiver.” About 30 students in the accelerated nursing program have participated each semester.

It’s a self-care-centered initiative, drawing attention to the importance of nurses caring for themselves in their education, as well as their patients.

The program hits close to home for Karan.

The designer said she’s been in and out of hospitals throughout her life. Karan’s husband and business partner, Stephen Weiss, founded the Donna Karan Company but died of cancer in 2001. The experience of helping him through his illness inspired Karan to start the foundation.

She said she lived in two worlds during her husband’s time with cancer: the medical world and the design world. The two didn’t mesh well together.

Her husband told her before he died, “Donna, whatever you do, please take care of the nurses.”

Karan said it’s inevitable that everyone will eventually enter a hospital at some point.

She talked about rituals for universal care: yoga, Reiki, aromatherapy and nutrition. These methods will help nurses to care for themselves and their patients, Karan said. But she stressed that self-care is important, not only in nursing, but in all occupations.

Colleen Saidman Yee and Rodney Yee are the directors of the yoga therapy component for the Urban Zen Foundation. The two spoke about the importance of a healthy in the mind, body and spirit.

Rodney Yee said the process to teach nurses to care for themselves is all about being mindful of everything around you. He said “Care of the Caregiver” requires an individual to do his or her best.

“Inhale, exhale, pause,” Rodney Yee said.

He suggested nurses do this breathing cycle to relax before entering a patient’s room. If nurses don’t take the time to care for themselves first, he said the experience of caring for someone else will get worse and worse.

Bethany Hussong, graduate student in school counseling, said she was surprised by Karan’s speech.

“I got a lot more out of it than I was expecting,” she said.

The Urban Zen Foundation focuses on making the treatment and healing process better for patients and their families.

Contact Danielle DeBord at [email protected].