Alive & Unedited: Vanessa Van Atta

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Since the October launch of the GenNext initiative, Vanessa Van Atta has helped the local chapter of United Way reach out to the city's growing base of young professionals. She spoke more about growing up, giving back and loving Journey.


I didn't see poverty growing up. I volunteered a lot in college, and it just kind of stuck. I babysat for a family, and the mom was involved in a lot. Seeing how she was giving back to the community and how it helped her stay connected - that was inspiring.

At United Way, I wear a variety of hats. My main jobs are to oversee two groups - the young leadership group and the GenNext group.

In college, I was a communication major. I took political science as a minor just for fun. I don't think there was a major for asking people for money. [Laughs.]

Volunteering is addictive. It gives you a good feeling, and you see what a direct impact you can have on others. You want to keep going back. The hardest thing is that initial step to becoming involved and putting yourself out there.

GenNext was founded for young people wanting to volunteer and not necessarily having the financial resources to commit to United Way when they're fresh out of college. We're doing a great job of having a presence with younger people. People our age tend to think United Way is something that their parents are involved in.

My favorite thing about Columbus is that it's not too overwhelming but there's definitely variety. People have the Midwestern kindness, but you get a big-city feel. People are really giving and charitable and want to help everyone out.

Something I'm really good at is figure skating. I did competitions until I was 18. To make it big, you have to be in the right place. Findlay, Ohio, was not the right place to be a professional figure skater. I coached all through college.

I love cheesy things. I went to a show in New York called Rock of Ages. It's based on '80s and '90s rock. They had this after-party, and there was a Journey cover band. It was just great. I was like, "I do. I really love Journey."

I'm a good resource for any celebrity gossip. Perez Hilton is a part of my daily life. I'm also a chicken-finger connoisseur. I can tell you where the good ones are.

Three things I can't live without are my dog, my family and electricity.

The best advice I've ever received is to go with your gut. I always do the gut check. I think everyone knows what they should be doing, but sometimes you just have to step back.

I admire my parents. My dad works for Cooper Tire & Rubber Company, so he works in a factory all day. My mom is a teacher's aid. They wanted me to have a better life than what they had - not that they had a bad life. They empowered me to do what I want.

Know someone doing cool things in Columbus? E-mail John Ross at