What's In Your Handbag?

"What's in Your Handbag?" 

Short interviews with fun, community-minded women to find out what they can't leave home without. 

Yola S. Ventresca

Partner, Lerners Lawyers

Fun Facts:

  • Huge fan of all things “90s”  - music, movies and sitcoms
  • Currently trying to break a pretty significant addiction to American cable news
  • Long-suffering member of Leaf Nation 
Favourite Part of Handbags for Hospice:

Lerners is proud to be the presenting sponsor of Handbags for Hospice. 

I was a Committee Chair for this event two years in a row and I love the Fund-a-Need aspect of this special evening. It's incredible to see the community come together in support of such a deserving cause.


My treasured Valentino. I was the successful bidder on this bag, which was in the live auction, in 2016.

What's in Yola's Valentino handbag:

  • Tom Ford lipstick – I have recently discovered Tom Ford lipstick, now a favourite of mine. 
  • Child sunglasses – I have a 3-year-old daughter. Part of the fun of having a toddler is never knowing what little gifts she has left for me in my purse.  Today, I found a pair of her sunglasses – she has about 10!
  • iPhone – my whole life is on my phone, I’m never without it. I also love my Kate Spade case, which I purchased in Montreal.
  • Altoids – I’ve swapped gum chewing for mints.                   

Christy Bacik

Managing Director, Freedom 55 Financial


About Her Role:

I lead a team of people who support Financial Advisors and their clients. I find it very fulfilling, especially when we have new talent join our team who wish to help others in our community achieve their financial goals.

Fun Facts:

I'm originally from London but spent a large part of my career in other cities. My husband and I moved back in 2010 and although I have a passion for travel and seeing the world, London is home!

Favourite Part of Handbags for Hospice:

It is certainly fun to browse and shop the amazing collection of handbags the committee puts together each year, but the highlight for me is hearing the impact stories. St. Joseph's Hospice touches so many lives and I feel so grateful to be able to play a very small part in that by attending their fundraising events.            

What's in Christy's Louis Vuitton handbag:
  • iPhone
  • Keys
  • Lots of lipsticks 
  • 2 pairs of sunglasses (just in case)
  • Business cards (old school!)
  • Altoids
  • Passport (travel enthusiast)
  • Wallet
  • Simply Bars
  • Water


Dr. Natalie Hertzman 

Medical Director, St. Joseph’s Hospice | Physician, Parkwood Insitute | Physician, Community Palliative Care

   Have you attended St. Joseph's Handbags for Hospice in the past?

Yes, I love Handbags for Hospice. It’s always a fun-filled night out with friends in a relaxed atmosphere, good snacks, and shopping. What more can a girl ask for?

Fun Facts About Natalie:

1. I am a space geek! I love astronomy and even space themed things like Star Wars.

2. I only hear music, but not lyrics. My 2-year-old son gets frustrated when I’m trying to sing songs with him because he’s singing the lyrics and I’m singing “Doo doo doo”.

3. I’m a shoe person more than a Handbag person. My Dad actually bought me my handbag for Christmas one year, and I took it out when my old one broke. I have actually had many compliments, so I suppose I should be happy he seems to have good taste!


What's in Natalie's Longchamp handbag?

  • Script pad
  • Snack and more snacks!
  • Phone
  • Wallet
  • Business cards
  • Hair elastics
  • Lipstick
  • Lip gloss
  • Mints
  • Stethoscope
  • Plenty of pens
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Hand lotion
  • Tissues (for patients/families - our conversations often bring tears)
  • Flashlight (for physical exams)
  • Tide to go
  • Small toy car (supplies for a toddler)
  • Car keys

Previous Interviewees:

Tara Yamamoto Dr. Josephine Pepe Lisa Walters
Shauna Powell Julie Johnston Barbara Blew
Katherine Serniwka Claudia Neville  
Debbie Young Dr. Josephine Pepe Lisa Ferguson
Amy Gibbons Alysia Christiaen Yola Ventresca
Dr. Gillian Kernaghan Kimberley Chesney Dr. Margaret Steele
Jennifer Taylor Tina Bax Janet Stewart

Tara Yamamoto

Assistant Vice-President, Sales Support and Operations at Great-West Life, London Life, Canada Life

Have you attended St. Joseph's Handbags for Hospice in the past?

No, but I'm looking forward to being able to give back to the community at a fun and fashionable event. There's always such a wonderful group of women at the event and it will be great to catch up.

      Fun Facts About Tara:
  1. I'm 4'11, so I'm always wearing heels. All 3 of my kids have bigger feet than me!
  2. I'm a sports mom (hockey, soccer, golf) and I try to never miss a game.
  3. I play women's soccer in London and I'm a golfer in training. I really like being outdoors and the social side of any sport. 

What's in Tara's Kate Spade New York handbag?

  • Ray-Ban sunglasses
  • Wallet
  • Keys
  • iPhone and phone charger ("I always get the broken one because my kids take the nicer ones.") 
  • Essential oil kit ("Essential oils are my go-to stress reliever.")
  • ID badge
  • Gum
  • Lotion
  • Perfume
  • 3 lipsticks
  • Coins
  • Business cards
  • Pen
  • Clear nail polish 


Dr. Josephine Pepe

Optometrist/Owner at Old North Optometry

Have you attended St. Joseph's Handbags for Hospice in the past?

Absolutely, my favourite part of Handbags for Hospice is the Live Auction as well as the Auctionista!

Fun Facts About Josephine:
  1. I love having fashion items that no one else has - jewellery, handbags, clothing and, of course, eyewear. It is the reason I love shopping at independent stores downtown (London, Ontario). It is also the reason why we carry independent boutique frame lines. 
  2. I love movies of all kinds (especially independent films).
  3. I love going to concerts! I’ve been to many when I was younger in Toronto but with Budweiser Gardens, The London Music Hall and The Aeolian Hall, I rarely need to leave the city (London, Ontario) anymore to see a fantastic show!

What's in Josephine's Handbag?

This is one of my (many) Matt & Nat bags. I love their handbags! I purchased this one years ago at Leslie’s in downtown London, Ontario.
  • Caroline Abram sunglasses
  • Matt & Nat wallet (also purchased at Leslie’s)
  • Keys
  • Zeiss cleaning cloth
  • Business card holder
  • Nail file
  • iPhone
  • London Lightning playoff tickets! 
Lisa Walters

Lawyer at the Family Law Group

Have you attended St. Joseph's Handbags for Hospice in the past?

Yes! My favourite part of the event is the great energy in the room for such a wonderful cause. 

Fun Facts About Lisa:
  1. I have completed a marathon
  2. I was once interviewed by Ed Helms when he was a correspondent with the Daily Show in NYC
  3. I've climbed an active volcano and ate poached eggs at the top of the climb (the eggs were poached inside of the active volcano!)
  4. I have five chickens - Rosie, Henrietta, Natasha Henstridge, Chickie Mc Chickface and Lil' Cluck 


What's in Lisa's Handbag?

  • Caroline Abram sunglasses and glasses from Old North Optometry (also a sponsor of this year's Handbags for Hospice!)
  • Tory Burch wallet
  • Lipstick
  • Triceratops (for my child - just in case!)
  • iPhone
Shauna Powell

Partner at Lerners LLP

 Have you attended St. Joseph's          handbags for Hospice in the past?

Yes, my first time attending was last year. I love the auctioneer and all of the beautiful bags. 

      Fun Facts About Shauna:
  1. Part of my legal studies was in London, England but I always wanted to practice law in London, Ontario
  2. I have spent a whole day dog-sledding with Lord Voldemort (sometimes known as Ralph Fiennes)
  3. I have an unhealthy addiction to chocolate covered licorice

What's in Shauna's Handbag?

  • Wallet
  • iPhone
  • Headphones (because I love to listen to music when I walk)
  • Portable charger (because I am always draining my phone battery)
  • Business cards
  • An Impark collection letter because I parked in Lerners' parking lot (no lie!)
  • "My Canada, My Inspiration" 2017 Coin Collection card from the Royal Canadian Mint in Ottawa
  • Brush
  • Instant shine shoe buffer
  • Keys
  • EOS lip gloss
  • Sunglasses
  • "Parlia-mints" (another cool find from Ottawa)
Julie Johnston

Executive Director at St. Joseph's Hospice

Handbag Contents Have you attended St. Joseph's Handbags for Hospice in the past?

Yes, the impact of witnessing over 400 philanthropic men and women in one place helping to support the Hospice is overwhelming. My favourite part of the event is the Fund-A-Need component. The generosity and energy from the crowd is heartwarming as they raise their bid numbers to directly fund a vital component of Hospice care. For example, the Fund-A-Need in 2016 raised over $29,000 towards sending bereaved children to a specialized summer camp and provide year-round support services for kids. 

Fun Facts About Julie:
  1. I'm a certified scuba diver
  2. I plan to skydive this summer
  3. I have three beautiful grandchildren

What's in Julie's Handbag?
  • Wallet 
  • 3 pens
  • iPhone 
  • Phone charger
  • Makeup case
  • Hand lotion
  • Handbags for Hospice postcards (helping to promote the event wherever she is!)
  • Nail kit

Barbara Blew

Partner at Lerners LLP

Handbag Contents

What's in Barbara's Handbag?

  • 13 loose pens
  • Three pairs of glasses: distance, sun and a recent addition of reading glasses
  • Iphone
  • Wallet
  • Loose change in a change purse
  • Hair elastic
  • Keys
  • Earrings I take off at the gym and forget to  put away, until one  earring of the pair inevitably goes missing
  • A paper two year Advance Planner Calendar
  • A Book, currently The Vegetarian by Han Kang

Have you attended St. Joseph's Handbags for Hospice in the past?

No, but I'm most looking forward to shopping for a good cause! I am in awe of the camaraderie that is felt when large groups of women congregate for a common purpose. 

Fun Facts About Barbara:

  1. I try to get in at least 30 days of downhill skiing every year
  2. I am very keen on hiking right now. I just finished a three day hike in the Grand Canyon, and will be hiking the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu in October
  3. I have been known to do solo dance performances (if the right 80's song is playing!) 


Katherine Serniwka

Associate at Lerners LLP

Handbag Contents

Handbag Contents

-Natural Hand Sanitizer
-lip chap
-bobby pins
-Western Law business card holder

If Katherine Serniwka could sing to us what’s in her handbag, the sweet melodies may forever romanticize the notion of hand sanitizer. A trained opera singer, she’s also an associate lawyer at Lerners, title sponsor for Handbags for Hospice. But this will be her first time attending the event.

“I’m really excited to see what the event is all about,” she says. “And Hospice is such a compassionate organization to support—I think it will be a very meaningful event.”

A born-and-raised Londoner, Katherine has a unique connection to our location. She took piano lessons since childhood at the Sisters of St. Joseph—our building neighbours on Windermere Road—and returns often to delight the sisters and their staff with her enchanting arias.

Katherine received her degree in Vocal Performance at Western University before moving to Toronto to work in business development, and then returning to London to study law. Both degrees, though seemingly opposite, have managed to intertwine nicely for Katherine.

She specializes in Business Law, which includes financing and corporate sales, but also copyright law and entertainment law— necessary for singers and other professional entertainers. And when she’s not navigating the legal system, she’s singing at various events—most recently at Courthouse Rocks – London Lawyers Feed the Hungry.

“I like to get involved as much as I can,” she says.

Katherine Serniwka
This also includes volunteering on the board of the London Block Parent Program for the past few years—an association led by Hospice advocate Maureen O’Halloran.

“Why not help the community flourish as much as it can?” asks Katherine. “We’re living in it, so we should give back.”

Lerners is giving back tremendously by supporting Handbags for Hospice as title sponsor for two years running, and we are grateful to Katherine and everyone involved.
Algarve Portugal

Fun Facts with Katherine:

-Lives with her husband and cat and supports animal rescue organizations
-Has family in Portugal and loves to travel to the Algarve (pictured)
-Loves interior decorating and home shows

Claudia Neville

Director of Sales & Catering
Best Western PLUS Lamplighter Inn & Conference Centre

Handbag Contents

Handbag Contents

- Collapsible grocery tote bag
- Wallet
- Cheque book
- Sunglasses
- Cellphone
- Cellphone charger
- Hairbrush
- Corkscrew
- James Taylor Tickets
- London Lightning Tickets

Claudia Neville is the fun-loving woman behind the scenes at all of our Hospice events held at the Best Western PLUS Lamplighter Inn & Conference Centre.  As Director of Sales & Catering for the past 15 years, she’s overseen countless weddings, conferences, and holiday parties and fundraisers, and as we can attest at Hospice, she treats each event with the utmost importance, bolstering the Lamplighter’s reputation as a highly sought-after and respected hotel and event venue in London.

She credits the inn’s owner, Sheldon Aaron, and her fellow colleagues for fostering a supportive and community-oriented work environment.  Although she’s been involved in the hospitality industry since high school, working her way up from front desk reception at the Royal Connaught Hotel in Hamilton, to management positions throughout several hotels in London, “I saved the best for last,” she said. 

Some notable moments and events at the Lamplighter have included a Jimmy Buffet-themed party, a wedding featuring a stunning cascading waterfall, engineered using Plexiglas, and the opportunity to host celebrities Michael. J. Fox and Edward Norton. 

“It’s really fun to see the events come to fruition after months of planning,” said Claudia.  “I think that the best part of the job is helping people realize their creative visions.”

And the beautiful, award-winning atrium at the Lamplighter serves as an excellent canvas for many events, such as our Four Elements for Hospice series.  Upon renovating the hotel, owner Sheldon Aaron consulted with the same architect who was involved in renovating the iconic Grand Ole Opry in Nashville (see below).  The atrium roof is also fully retractable using the same mechanism as the Rogers Centre in Toronto.

Claudia Neville

This adventurous venue is reflected in its adventurous staff.  Claudia herself, is as comfortable co-piloting a plane as she is kayaking with whale sharks in Baja, riding a Harley through Napa valley, as well as scuba diving, though she adds, she was “the laughingstock of her diving class,” when she showed up to a room full of eager divers who were wearing cute, colourful diving weights, while Claudia sported industrial-sized weights heavy enough to sink a small boat. 

Born in Berlin, Germany, Claudia loves travel, concerts, and good wine, and has met friends all over the world and throughout the hotel industry in addition to fostering close relationships with the clients she works with, like St. Joseph’s Hospice.  She’s known friends and family members who have received hospice care at the end of their lives, and she was very impressed with the support they received. 

“There’s such compassion shown at Hospice,” she said.  “The process is so dignified -- it’s definitely a cause I want to continue to support.” 

Claudia also supports Mission Services, children’s charities and grassroots crowdfunding campaigns like GoFundMe. 

St. Joseph’s Hospice is grateful to Claudia Neville, Sheldon Aaron, and the entire staff at the Best Western PLUS Lamplighter Inn & Conference Centre for consistently providing impeccable service and dedicated support.

Best Western Atrium

The gazebo in the atrium of the Lamplighter Inn
Grand Ole Opry

The gazebo in the atrium of the Grand Ole Opry

Debbie Young

Senior Vice President of Merchandising, TJX Canada
(WINNERS, Marshalls and Home Sense)

Handbag Contents

Handbag: Prada

Handbag Contents

-Cell Phone "Keeping my finger on the pulse"
-Business Cards "You never know who you will meet" 
-Hand Sanitizer "No time to be sick" 
-Breath mints "If garlic is on the menu"
-Pen "My favourite writing tool"
-Hand Cream "Always remembering to keep my hands moisturized"
-Wallet "A necessary evil"
-Keys "Readily available"
-Makeup bag "Basic necessities"
-Kleenex "Just in case!"
-Sunglasses "Staying cool at all times"
-Reading glasses "Making everything a lot clearer"

With all the many causes national company WINNERS Marshalls could support, St. Joseph’s Hospice is extremely grateful to receive overwhelming support in the form of more than $19,000 in gorgeous designer handbags. Senior Vice President of Merchandising Debbie Young spoke to Hospice about why her employer chose to support the cause.

“It’s such an important and profound time at the end of someone’s life, and we believe very strongly in helping people in need,” said Debbie. “We have beautiful products that could help this event, so what better way to help the community?”

Her desire to support end-of-life care is also rooted in personal experience. Debbie’s sister spent her final days in the Dorothy Ley Hospice in Etobicoke after a trying battle with breast cancer.

“I was her caregiver before she went to Hospice and it was really overwhelming,” said Debbie. “But the experience at Hospice was like none other.”

Debbie is also a strong advocate for breast cancer awareness and research and sits on both the Senior Leadership Committee and the Grants Committee for the Canadian Women’s Foundation, where she is involved in supporting the product for ‘Shop for Hope’ fundraising for Women and Children against violence. Debbie makes room for these commitments amid her busy schedule juggling a fashion career that takes her all over the world.

She knew she wanted to work in the fashion industry at a very young age—an innate passion that led to a varied career that began with completing the Fashion and Merchandising program at Ryerson, teaching fashion at Centennial College at only 23 years old, working as a fashion buyer in the U.K. for many years, owning her own business and then working with TJX Canada, where she’s been happily employed for the past 13 years. She currently oversees the sourcing and buying of all the home products such as bath, bedding, pet and kids decor. This means frequent trips to the TJX buying offices in New York, LA, London (UK), Florence, Hong Kong and—most notably—Delhi.

Debbie Young

“I found India very hard to visit when I first went about 25 years ago because it was so overwhelmed by poverty. It is still very much a problem, but the economy has made huge strides, which makes my work there that much more meaningful, and the people are a pleasure to work with.”

When Debbie is not travelling and working, she enjoys theatre and sports like baseball, hockey and skiing with the men in her life: her husband, two sons and (male) dog. And, of course, she is constantly driven by the pulse of the fashion industry and draws inspiration from everywhere—magazines, museums, her surroundings and her life experiences.

We think Debbie is pretty inspirational herself, and we thank her for giving us a glimpse into her world.

Dr. Josephine Pepe

Optometrist and Owner, Old North Optometry

 Handbag Contents

Handbag: Matt & Nat

Handbag Contents

-wallet              -cell phone
-recipe               -keys
-gum                 -pen
-card holder      -nail file
-cinema passes
-London Lightning Tickets
-Oliver Goldsmith prescription sunglasses
-gift certificates for Lifestyle Clothing, Leslie's Clothing and Covent Garden Market

Josephine Pepe’s handbag nicely portrays her commitment to supporting London businesses and quality craftsmanship. Almost all of her receipts and gift certificates are from locally-owned or socially conscious businesses, and her funky Oliver Goldsmith sunglasses represent one of the unique product lines she carries at Old North Optometry.

A passionate and outgoing entrepreneur, Josephine opened her business more than two years ago in a beautiful old church building on Richmond Street, after 14 years at Westmount Optometrists. Her desire to carry boutique lines prompted her interest in opening her own office. She stocks her alluring display walls with as many exclusive boutique products as possible, and works with companies that set the trends while also offering meticulous craftsmanship.

“I love carefully designed and unique pieces. With the right pair of glasses, you can give anyone an instant makeover.”

She is helping further inject style into the wardrobes of our Hospice supporters by donating high-end sunglasses to be paired with each live auction handbag at Handbags for Hospice.

And though her business is still in its infancy, Josephine sets aside the resources to support several community initiatives: sponsoring Pride London, serving on the committee for Comic Vision—a comedy night and auction that raises money to fight blindness and retinal disease—participating in the Run for Retina for several years, and volunteering with Mario Vella’s Golf Tournament for ALS.

Supporting St. Joseph’s Hospice aligns with her desire to give back to the community in which she lives. 

Josephine Pepe

“I know what it’s like to have someone close to you suffering,” she said. “And if I can help in some way, then I’m happy to do so. This event also fits nicely with what I have to offer at Old North Optometry.”

We couldn’t agree more, and we are so grateful for Josephine’s support. Stay tuned over the next few weeks as we reveal the stunning glasses she is donating to our live auction.

Olilver Goldsmith Sunglasses
Oliver Goldsmiths
Vinylize Collection
Movie Passes
Josephine loves the cinema


Lisa Ferguson
Owner of Accents

 Handbag Contents

Handbag: Alexander Wang

Handbag Contents

-bejeweled compact mirror
-lip pencil
-Boot Rescue protective boot wipes
-Foot Silk spray

What's your favourite part of working in Fashion as Owner of Accents (and former stylist with Fisher & Company)?

I have worked in retail my whole life and always had a real passion for shoes, jewelry and all accessories, so opening Accents was really a perfect fit for me! Working in the industry is really an exciting environment because it's ever-changing. In more recent years, the fashion scene has broken up the year into more frequent and specific seasons, which means even more fun as we are getting new deliveries almost every month.

Why do you support end-of-life and bereavement care through Handbags for Hospice?

I am very grateful to be able to assist in the Handbags for Hospice event - I believe this is a cause that helps those during a very sensitive and difficult time. Hospice allows for an experience as positive as possible for those at the end of life or who are grieving, and anything I can do to allow these programs to continue to help people, I am eager to assist with.

What do you love about serving the London community?

What I love about London is the long-term support I have received over 30 years from my great customers. It is such a nice feeling to have connected with many of my customers throughout all my years as a stylist and through many changes and stages in life. Many of my customers have become great friends and travel buddies throughout the years!

Are you an avid traveler?

Lisa Ferguson

 In my spare time I love to travel - from my short buying trips to New York City to great adventures across the world to Australia. I just love a change of scenery. I am a foodie and love wine, so those are two highlights of every trip for me. As you can imagine, I always find some time while away to check out the shopping scene…for research of course haha! 

If you could style any one person, who would it be, and what kind-of handbag would you choose for them?

If I could style anyone, I would hands-down choose to style Iris Apfel - she is a true accessory icon! Her mix and match has a great flow with a side of whacky, but on her it all works! I would love to get a look at her collection of bold and unique items! To choose a bag for her would be simple: look around and find the most unique and colourful bag! I would style her with the Missoni bright red knit bag with the chunky resin chain link strap.


Iris Apfel Missoni Knit Bag


Amy Gibbons
Director, Accumulation Market, Wealth Management Product Marketing, Great-West Life, London Life and Canada Life

 Handbag Contents

Handbag: Cole Haan
(Gift from her husband)

Handbag Contents

-Cell phone
-Car keys
-Baby biscuits
-Great-West Life employee card
-tape measurer
-contact lenses

 For this working mom who even finds time to exercise and volunteer while raising infant twins, a three year-old and two golden retrievers, one might expect her purse to be something akin to a clown car, with never-ending odds and ends portraying a very busy life. But Amy Gibbons’ streamlined essentials represent her ability to keep balance in her life—always with a smile on her face and as humble as ever, despite her many accolades.

Amy received a prestigious 20 Under 40 award last fall, presented by Business London and the 20 Under 40 Foundation. This achievement is a much-deserved nod to Amy’s career success and contributions to the community, which include her five-year tenure as director of the board of the Women’s Community House, three-year term on the grant review team at the Ontario Trillium Foundation, and her mentoring work at her alma mater, Ivey Business School. As part of the award, Amy was able to submit a charity for consideration for the 20 Under 40 Foundation to support. As a result, the foundation gave Hospice a grant that allowed us to purchase and install 10 new emergency call bells in our residence. Amy Gibbons

Hospice has also forged a wonderful relationship over the past few years with Amy’s employer, Great-West Life, London Life and Canada Life, which has served as diamond sponsor for all three signature Hospice events two years in a row, as well as donating significantly to our Capital Campaign that funded the opening of our residential hospice.

As former chair and four-year veteran of the Handbags committee, Amy recalls the moment she realized she could make a difference at Hospice.

“When I toured the hospice in Sarnia five years ago, I was struck by how we didn’t have something like it in London. By joining the Handbags for Hospice committee, I thought ‘This is a way that I can help bring this to London.’”

And Amy has remained loyal to Hospice since that day, despite her responsibilities at home tripling last year.

“I went from having one kid to three!” Amy gave birth to twins less than a week after last year’s Handbags for Hospice event, and has enjoyed quality time at home with her kids before she returns to work this month.

St. Joseph’s Hospice is grateful for Amy’s support and the support of Great-West Life, London Life and Canada Life.

“It is such a fun committee and great cause. And the event itself is always really exciting, especially the live auction. I can’t wait to see the Auctionista in action again this year!”

Alysia Christiaen
Partner at Lerners LLP

 Alysia Christiaen

Handbag: Tory Burch
(Purchased at Handbags for Hospice 2015)

Handbag Contents

-Cadubury mini eggs
-Handbags for Hospice invites
-two cellphones
-two pens
-two card holders
-change purse
-compact mirror
-makeup bag
-In Style magazine
-#Girlboss book

“You can’t go wrong when you have a room full of handbags.”

That’s what Alysia Christiaen, Partner at Lerners LLP, thought when her friend and colleague, Yola Ventresca, asked her to join the Handbags for Hospice committee. Alysia helped out with the event last year by soliciting handbag donations, coordinating a fabulous limo-chartered shopping trip to Toronto, and attending the event, but this is her first year on the planning committee. And so far, she’s having a blast.

“It’s a really fun group of ladies,” she said. “There are a lot of great ideas bounced around in those meetings.”

lysia spends much of her spare time sharing her ideas and expertise. She serves as president of the board of the Brain Injury Association of London and sits on the board for the Parkinson’s Society of Southwestern Ontario. Her grandfather inspired her involvement in the Parkinson’s Society, having battled with the disease for years.

“He died in a nursing home in Norfolk County, but I would have loved for him to be in a place like Hospice. It’s so much more comforting here and families feel welcome to visit freely,” she said.

It makes supporting St. Joseph’s Hospice an easy choice. Her firm, Lerners LLP, is the Title Sponsor for Handbags for Hospice for the second year in a row. Lerners is dedicated to community issues and encourages its staff and lawyers to give back.  Alysia began working with the firm in 2007 as a summer student, and has worked her way up to partner. She practices personal injury law, health law and class actions law.

 Alysia Christiaen

When she’s not flexing her legal muscle, she keeps active playing baseball and dodgeball.  She’s lent her talents to the illustrious teams ‘The Dodging Dead’ (complete with zombie attire) and ‘Mr. Dodgers Neighbourhood,’ to name a few. She’s also an avid NASCAR fan, a self-described “foodie who doesn’t cook,” a lover of fashion, wine enthusiast and dedicated owner to her dapper (or so we assume) cat, Mr. Darcy.

We’re fortunate to have Alysia share her many talents and interests with the Handbags for Hospice committee.

Mini Eggs Books Change Purse


Yola Ventresca
Partner at Lerners LLP

 Handbag Contents

Handbag Contents

-novel                -mints
-cell phone         -memory stick
-sunglasses        -hair clip
-wallet               -iPod
-makeup bag      -hand cream
-keys                 -card holder
-gum                 -novel
-Starbucks gift card
-program from play her brother directed
-Handbags for Hospice Invites
-baby’s ‘Sophie’ teething toy

The Handbags for Hospice invitations in Yola Ventresca’s purse reflect the hard work she’s put in to support Handbags for Hospice. Her firm, Lerners LLP, is the presenting sponsor for Handbags for Hospice.

“We’re a local firm rooted in community,” says Yola. “And there are a lot of women at Lerners who are very fond of nice purses, so the handbags event was a perfect fit.”

It’s also a cause that’s near to Yola’s heart. She’s had friends go through hospice, and she thinks it’s an area that could use more attention and support.

In addition to her sponsorship, Yola is a dedicated Handbags for Hospice committee member along with her former Huron University College classmate Amy Gibbons. The two bonded over “pushing the feminist tradition” in their English Political Tradition class.

“We were the bane of our professor’s existence,” she laughs.

Now a successful lawyer after earning her law degree at Western and a master’s degree in Health Law and Policy at the University of Toronto, Yola continues to be an advocate in the community, mentoring young lawyers, volunteering with several boards and committees—including the
Huron Alumni Association and the Research Ethics Review Council at King’s—and teaching law at Western University.

Lerners LLP Partner Yola Ventresca 


Sophie baby toy

And the small giraffe toy in her purse isn’t without reason. Yola gave birth to her baby daughter, Simona, last August. She credits her firm and partners like Janet Stewart, previously featured in ‘What’s In Your Handbag,’ for allowing her and other lawyers at Lerners to have a good work/life balance.

“My family is so important to me, but so is my job,” says Yola, who likes the client-centered nature of helping people navigate the legal maze.

When she’s not working, raising her baby and being asked to come to Hospice for
videos and interviews, Yola enjoys reading, theatre, travelling, cooking, baking and watching the news with her husband, who teaches history at King’s University College.

But just don’t call on Yola if you need a bird-watching companion.

“I have a really hard time identifying animals,” she laughs. “I can’t tell the difference between a duck and a Canada goose, and I once thought a dog wearing a vest on my front lawn was a deer.”

But she can tell a Tory Burch from a Gucci, so we’ll let the animal thing slide.

St. Joseph’s Hospice is beyond grateful to Yola and Lerners for everything they’ve done for Handbags for Hospice. It’s been an absolute pleasure.

Handbag Contents Handbags Contents Handbag Contents

Yola's purse reflects her love of literature, theatre and music


Dr. Gillian Kernaghan
President and CEO of St. Joseph's Health Care London

(Although St. Joseph’s Hospice shares the same name as the hospital, they are two separate and distinct organizations)

Handbag Contents - Gillian Kernaghan

Handbag Contents

-iPad                    -wallet
-iPad charger        -glasses
-comb                  -keys
-Blackberry           -mirror
-lipstick                -lip gloss
-Kleenex               -business cards

-Swarovski pen     -Purple pen
(because Gillian loves purple)

Fearless seems like the appropriate word to describe Dr. Gillian Kernaghan. She’s boldly climbed the ranks from student intern at St. Joseph’s Health Care (St. Joseph’s) to President and CEO of the organization, managing pandemics such as SARS and H1N1 along the way.   

"Those weren't too difficult," she says casually. "There's nothing like a crisis to bring people together and create a positive outcome. It's keeping that ideal balance between daily quality and quantity of patient care that’s one of the biggest challenges."

But she says everyone at the hospital is rallying together and working hard to strive for complete confidence in patient care. Through her leadership, St. Joseph’s is now coordinating different clinics and wings so that a patient can have his or her appointments all in one day, regardless of the department.

“The healthcare system has been siloed for many years,” she says. “And that includes palliative care, but we’re working towards more integration.”

Back when Gillian was a family physician, she would visit patients in their homes and provide palliative care.

"It’s so important to have a dignified, supportive care environment for end-of-life. And Hospice is on the right track."
Gillian Kernaghan 

Gillian is also an Associate Professor at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, serves on the board of the Ontario Hospital Association and the Council of Academic Hospitals of Ontario and is involved in numerous provincial health system initiatives. But when she’s not working, she’s involved in her church and spends her time “playing with the boys.”

Her intrepid nature is not limited to the workplace. The Scotland-born doctor participates in a multitude of thrill-seeking sports with her sons, including skiing, mountain biking, kayaking, hiking, zip lining, rappelling, jumping off cliffs, snorkeling in the frigid Alaskan waters, and even surfing.

“I recently took a two-hour lesson in Hawaii and learned there are 150 ways to fall,” she laughs.

Like RBC’s Jennifer Taylor, previously featured in ‘What’s In Your Handbag,’ Gillian’s also a certified scuba diver, and takes diving trips with her family whenever she gets the chance. 

She’s been married for 35 years and has three adult, extreme sport-loving sons.

Thanks to Gillian for sharing her adventure with St. Joseph’s Hospice.

Gillian Kernaghan Handbag Contents Gillian Kernaghan Handbag Contents Gillian Kernaghan Handbag Contents

 Gillian's streamlined and modern essentials


Kimberley Chesney
Founder and President of Prime Management Group (PMG)

Kimberley Chesney Handbag

-Starbucks gift card           -granola bar
-church donation card       -pen & business cards
-plastic airplane bag full of liquids/gels

Handbag Contents

-wallet                    -card holder
-passport                -glasses
-bag of lipsticks       -comb
-keys                       -scarf
-lipstick                   -comb
-gum                       -lozenges

-breath strips          -dental floss
-cell phone              -email
-notebook                -cloth

Kimberley Chesney’s purse is stocked with all the essentials needed in case she has to hop on a  plane at the drop of a hat. She’s even got her liquids and gels packed away nicely in one of those transparent, security-ready bags.

As a business-owning entrepreneur involved in various local and international boards, Kimberley is always on the move. She started Prime Management Group (PMG), a London-based search and recruitment firm, 25 years ago, and her rigorous search for a top-notch workforce in addition to her work consulting and training, has brought her all over the world.

The Guelph-born entrepreneur moved to London when she was in public school and stuck around after graduating with a degree in human resources from Western University. She’s used her talents to serve on various boards and committees, including—just to name a few—St. Joseph’s Healthcare Society, the London Chamber of Commerce, NPA, The Worldwide Recruitment Network, The London Club, of which she was the first female president, and—most recently—St. Joseph’s Hospice.

“Hospice is great because it really understands the person as a whole,” said Kimberley. “It’s about life and not death as many people define it.”
Kimberley Chesney 

Kimberley says she has a natural bent toward healthcare issues because she had aspirations of becoming a nurse when she was younger, but “wasn’t cut out for bedside nursing.”

“I always said, ‘God doesn’t make mistakes!’”

Both her mother and sister were nurses, and her father—an entrepreneur with his own veterinary pharmaceutical company—was Kimberley’s business role model and inspired her to want to become an entrepreneur.

When Kimberley’s not busy with entrepreneurial duties and affecting change through her volunteerism, she golfs, shops for shoes, travels, enjoys good wine and food, is active in her church, and spends time with her husband, Wes, and her children, grandchildren and dog Guinness. She’s an outdoor gal who “keeps the window open even in the dead of winter.” And, of course, she enjoys Handbags for Hospice.

“It’s one of the most fun, unique events ever,” said Kimberley. “It’s fascinating to experience such a supercharged and energetic event and see all the different styles—definitely a not-to-be-missed event.”

Thanks to Kimberley for her support of Hospice and for showing us what’s in her fabulous yellow bag.

Floss Lozenges Granola Bar

                                      Just a few items from Kimberley Chesney's well-stocked purse


Margaret Steele Handbag Contents Handbag Contents

-wallets                  -Kleenex
-work phone and personal phone
-bag of lipsticks       -comb
-several keys          -mirror
-highlighter             -nametag
-pantyhose             -card holder
-notebook               -business cards
-work papers

Margaret Steele’s handbag reflects her multi-faceted career and love for variety: two phones, several wallets, a bag of lipsticks, and multiple sets of keys, among other things.

She has  two or more of just about everything: letters after her name (HBSc, MD, FRCPC, MEd, DFCPA, CCPE – 23 in total!), professional roles (Vice-Dean, Professor, clinical child and adolescent psychiatrist, Western United Way co-chair, co-leader of the Academic Health Sciences Network in Southwestern Ontario (SWAHN), national advocate for mental health for children and youth) and interests (travelling, Stratford theatre, philanthropy, reading, country music, sheep).

And despite her accolades and achievements, she remains as humble as ever. As a mentor to new faculty at Schulich, she says she sees her role as “basking in the glow of other people’s successes,” which is a saying she first heard from a colleague, Dr. Steve Wartman. But she’s hardly been resting on her laurels. Margaret has been working tirelessly for years as an advocate for children’s mental health and helped lead the national initiative to make child and adolescent psychiatry a recognized subspecialty.
Margaret Steele

“The earlier you can identify and work with kids at risk, the better they’ll be able to develop, grow, and do well in the world, and it’s really rewarding to see that happen,” said Margaret.

Margaret Steele

End-of-life care is another important cause for Margaret. Through SWAHN, she facilitated the development of a working group to address the issue of embedding palliative care into the health care curriculum of all health and human service professionals. She’s grieved the loss of both her mother and two sisters in recent years, and has seen first-hand the need for more resources devoted to palliative care and chronic disease management.

 But despite all of Margaret’s challenges and responsibilities, she always finds time to laugh. She says her friends, family and colleagues always know when she’s around, because they can hear her distinctive laugh before they see her. She was laughing about a recent trip that involved swimming with dolphins.

“The dolphins were all nudging us into a line-up so everyone would get their turn,” said Margaret. “It was hilarious.”

“When I travel, the people I meet wouldn’t think I have all these professional commitments,” she said, every bit as down-to-earth as she sounds.

Thank you to Margaret for taking the time to share a moment of your busy life with St. Joseph’s Hospice.
Margaret loves sheep


Jennifer Taylor
Regional Vice President at RBC Royal Bank

London and St. Thomas

Jennifer Taylor Handbag Contents Handbag Contents

-wallet             -lip gloss
-cardholder       -pens
-keys               -gum
-two forks         -doodle notebook
-sunglasses and glasses 
-mini toothbrushes
-Stress Test card from United Way meeting
-volunteer form for her son
-email about sponsoring Women of Excellence

Jennifer Taylor came in for a tour of Hospice about a month ago, and was blown away by the level of care that goes into the end-of-life journey.

“I don’t think people realize how important the details are that go into making that experience comfortable for people,” she said. 

Jennifer not only supports Hospice, but is active in many community initiatives. She’s a member of the United Way campaign cabinet, has served on the allocation committee at St. Joseph’s Hospital, and is involved in fundraising for the children’s hospital.

She says her role as Regional Director at RBC has allowed her to take her passion for people even further.

“It’s my dream job,” she said. “It allows me to do what I love, which is lead a great team while also getting involved in the community.

Jennifer, a born-and-raised Londoner—and proud of it—started working at RBC when the bank was recruiting at Western University back when she was a student. Her career brought her to Toronto for several years, but she was drawn back to London 17 years ago, where she continued to climb the professional ranks while raising her two children.

Jennifer Taylor
Jennifer Taylor Handbag Contents

When she has some downtime, she enjoys watching Netflix and going on scuba diving trips with her family to Mexico, Hawaii, and other exotic locales.

“There’s just something so surreal about being underwater. It’s a privilege really, since humans aren’t meant to be down there.”

Though there weren’t any goggles or wetsuits in her handbag, it was stocked with all her essentials, including toothbrushes, a doodle book, and a form for her son’s volunteer hours.

She also had a little card from her United Way meeting that gauges your level of stress by changing colour when you touch it. The proof was in the colour. Jennifer is one calm, collected and remarkable woman.

Thanks to Jennifer for letting us dive into her handbag.

Jennifer Taylor


Tina Bax
Founder of Culture Works ESL School
YMCA Women of Excellence Award Recipient, 2015

Tina Bax Handbag Contents

Handbag Contents

-apple                 -Cliff Bar
-headphones      -hairbrush
-wallet                -passport
-sunglasses        -Kleenex
-gum                  -Post-Its
-pens                 -"secret" mirror
-a folder of work papers
-cell phone in funky, starry case
-Burts Bees lip balm and hand cream

The contents of Tina Bax’s handbag paint a pretty accurate picture of who she is.

The passport – She travels all the time for both work and play, and loves it. In fact, she started Culture Works in 1998 after her own experience teaching English in South Korea. Recently she returned from a ladies trip to Dublin, where she says she laughed with friends for five solid days.

The Cliff bar, apple and headphones – She loves to run and keep healthy

The folder of work papers – “I work too much and I can be very bossy.” But that hard work has paid off. Bax says Culture Works is Canada’s first private ESL school that truly blends technology with a personalized student experience. The school works on the campus level at post-secondary institutions to provide international students with an opportunity to improve their English while focusing on their core studies.

The starry phone case and, though it’s not technically in her bag, her fabulous world map trench coat - She is one fun and stylish lady. “I love purses and shoes. I’m so excited for Handbags for Hospice! I’ve been looking at the bags online every day, and I think going to this event is way more fun and exciting than looking through the handbag department at Holt Renfrew…plus it’s for a great cause.”

Tina’s company Culture Works has sponsored a number of Hospice events, and she says the culture of philanthropy is one she grew up with.

Tina Bax
Tina Bax

“I came from modest beginnings,” she said. “But I was always taught to give back.”

She learned a lot about managing her own successful business while giving back to the community through her experience on the YMCA board.
When she learned about St. Joseph’s Hospice, she saw it as another opportunity to give back.Tina’s father-in-law died nine years ago, and she said sharing someone’s end-of-life journey with them is one of the most profound things she’s experienced.

“And if I can help someone else’s experience in some way by supporting Hospice, than I am happy to do so.”

Thanks to Tina for coming to Hospice and giving us a glimpse into her world. 


Janet Stewart
Partner at Lerners LLP

Janet Stewart with her handbag and its contents

Handbag Contents

-wallet                -sunglasses
-keys                  -bill
-pens                 -ID card
-Two lipsticks     -Hairbrush
-letter from Governor General’s office about Canadian Caring award
-letter from Trinity Fund
-Colourful pencils from the Museum of Modern Art in New York
-cheque book
-business card with phone number written on it

Janet Stewart, QC, is a partner at Lerners LLP who’s been with the firm since 1969. Her specialty is business law and wills and estates.

Similar to Hospice staff, Janet often sees clients at the end of their lives, along with their families. She’s been seeing some of the same clients since she began practicing law 46 years ago, and has even served three generations of the same family.

“The best part of my job is meeting the clients” she said, “and that’s what keeps me here all these years.”

Besides keeping busy as a lawyer, Janet is a strong advocate for philanthropy and volunteerism. She was a founding member of Big Brothers Big Sisters and sat on their board for 25 years. She’s been involved with many charities and always encourages her colleagues to give back.

Purse Contents
Governor General's letter on the left
“I tell the new lawyers here: ‘Find a cause that really excites you, throw yourself into the deep end, and get involved.’”

The community-minded lifestyle was instilled in Janet at an early age. Growing up in Waterloo, her family always contributed their time and talents to the community, and Janet adopted the lifestyle wholeheartedly—so much so that the Governor General’s office honoured Janet with the Caring Canadian award in 2013. She also holds the Order of Ontario for both her philanthropy and her advocacy for the advancement of women in law.


She was one of only a handful of women lawyers in Ontario when she started practicing, and was the first local woman to become managing partner of a law firm. She serves as mentor and role model to many young lawyers starting out in their career.

And though she works hard, she always finds time to play. She’s a self-described eccentric who entertains her friends and colleagues by putting on different accents and teaching them how to make the perfect martini.

In her spare time, Janet golfs “badly,” enjoys the orchestra, travels--she’s headed to Zambia in May—and is a regular both in Stratford and at Labatt Park. Give her the Bard or baseball any day and she’s a happy woman.

She describes her handbag as “the most unexciting purse in the world,” but we disagree. Not everyone has a letter from the Governor General kicking around in their bag.

Thanks to Janet Stewart for letting us peek into her world, and into her bag.  

Janet Stewart, QC
Janet acquired the painted violin
from Orchestra London

Lerners Lawyers is the presenting sponsor for our Handbags for Hospice event on June 10th.

Pencils from MOMA

      Pencils from the Museum of Modern Art

Beauty Supply

                  The essential beauty supply

 Award and Magazine

  Two of Janet's great loves: philanthropy and baseball

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