Penn State Relay For Life executive director plans on lifelong cancer advocacy

As a child, Courtney Mensch felt an overwhelming urge to give money to the homeless people on the streets of New York City. Her mother reminded her that it wasn’t possible to give money to everyone, so she tried to give flowers to as many homeless people as she could, delighted when she could bring a smile their faces. Mensch, a senior materials science and engineering major in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences (EMS), hasn’t stopped spreading smiles since then.

Today Mensch is the executive director of Relay For Life of Penn State, a 24-hour walk-a-thon that raises money for the American Cancer Society. Since its inception, the organization has raised over $1.2 million.

Leading by example

As a first-year student, Mensch was confident that she wanted to advocate for a cause. She decided to attend the night-time Luminaria Ceremony at Relay For Life. At the ceremony, luminaria bags line the walkways lit with candles, honoring those who have suffered or are suffering from cancer. She had her “this is it” moment and decided to get involved.

Gradually, she assumed more leadership and held positions like the EMS Relay For Life chairperson, Greek recruitment overall, ultimately becoming the executive director in her senior year.

“Now that Relay has become a huge part of my life, I’m constantly thinking, ‘how can I make it a better event? What can I change?’ Being involved in nonprofit organizations where I have a leadership position, I want to do a good job,” says Mensch.

Relay For Life Penn State

Courtney Mensch, bottom right, stands with overall committee members at Relay for Life of Penn State 2017. 

Image: Courtney Mensch

A driven leader, Mensch encourages the other student leaders to know every member of their respective teams personally. Her methods have led to successful outcomes. Currently, Relay For Life of Penn State is ranked 16th of out the 609 chapters in the country and saw an 886 percent increase in fundraising under her leadership.

“I had to change my leadership style as my roles changed. The biggest challenge for me is recognizing that we have diverse members but are always striving for one goal,” said Mensch.

Mensch believes in fundraising for the American Cancer Society because she sees the money benefiting more than just scientific research.

“They provide patients and families therapies. They provide them with housing. They provide them with transportation to a hospital if it’s needed. They provide support through hotlines for people struggling with the effects of cancer treatments.  Survivors will tell you how much it means to them,” says Mensch.

Toward lifelong advocacy

Mensch’s advocacy for cancer goes beyond Relay For Life. This year, she danced for 46 hours at Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon (THON). She has also been an active member of EMS benefiting THON since a first-year student.

“Both THON and Relay For Life, have allowed me to help cancer patients and survivors of all ages,” says Mensch.

Mensch can’t imagine graduating from college and leaving Relay For Life of Penn State.

“I will always be there to help the next Relay For Life leaders. I do not see my philanthropic ways ever stopping,” said Mensch.

About Relay For Life and how to get involved

Relay For Life of Penn State works to raise money for the American Cancer Society, which provides emotional and financial support for cancer patients through the financing of several programs as well as life-saving research.

This year, the walk-a-thon begins at 2 p.m. April 7 in the Hetzel Union Building Lawn on the University Park campus. Luminaria Week will take place between March 26 to 30. For more information, visit the Relay For Life of Penn State website.

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Last Updated April 03, 2018