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Partner Perspectives: The American Cancer Society and Colleges Against Cancer

Partner Perspectives are written by members of the Community Consulting Board through the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning. These articles provide examples of partnerships, best practices, and other insights from the viewpoint of Illinois State University’s community partners.

Michael Schulte

Michael Schulte

By Michael Schulte, community development manager, American Cancer Society

The American Cancer Society has a proud history of partnering with Illinois State University. Our connection through Colleges Against Cancer has provided a lasting impact by providing volunteer opportunities to students. Colleges Against Cancer is a nationwide collaboration of college students, faculty, and staff who are dedicated to eliminating cancer by initiating and supporting programs of the American Cancer Society in college communities.

The program is designed to allow students and staff to work through many different channels to eliminate cancer. These channels are our strategic directions—advocacy, cancer education programs, fundraising, and survivorship. The Illinois State University Colleges Against Cancer chapter works with the local American Cancer Society office and national leadership to support the efforts of the American Cancer Society in these directions. Whether it is writing letters to Congressmen, organizing a Relay For Life, or teaching students about preventing cancer—the program enables college students to battle cancer on their campuses.

Relay for life log American Cancer SocietyThis past year, Colleges Against Cancer organized Relay For Life of Illinois State University, in which over 400 students and 33 RSOs joined teams to raise over $33,000 to support the American Cancer Society’s mission. These funds help support cancer research and access to care services for patients such as Road To Recovery and the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge. Fifteen cancer survivors from the campus community received recognition and support at this year’s Relay For Life. In addition, Colleges Against Cancer provided educational materials to students on how to reduce the risk of cancer and how to find help when a diagnosis occurs. Students also organized a card writing campaign to provide encouragement to local cancer patients and they volunteered directly at the local cancer treatment center.

Illinois State University Colleges Against Cancer also supported the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN). ACS CAN is a volunteer-lead organization that empowers citizens to influence policy change from their elected officials to support policy to fight cancer. This year our Colleges Against Cancer President, Megan Tunney, joined over 700 volunteers for three days in Washington, D.C. for the ACS CAN Leadership Summit and Lobby Day. She met with congressional staff from all 18 Congressional districts in Illinois and both Senators to advocate for polices related to cancer awareness and prevention. These efforts help boost funding for cancer research and for improving the quality of life of cancer patients.

When working with the campus community, it is important to provide a hands-on experience for our student volunteers. Students take ownership by planning, organizing, and implementing the Relay For Life experience. Planning for this experience begins months in advance. Students also take part in innovative fundraisers, providing valuable experience in philanthropy. To find success, it is important to have an on-campus presence to identify and develop student leaders. We seek to expand on leadership development and growth of our volunteers. Many volunteers continue to support the American Cancer Society well after graduation. Their perspective provides valuable insight on how our organization must evolve in order to connect to younger generations.

We also seek to expand on our connections with faculty and staff. We seek to collaborate with campus departments to become immersed in campus culture. We seek to work with instructors to incorporate Colleges Against Cancer programs into service learning projects that can be built into classroom curriculum. We seek to develop relationships with student organizations seeking experience in leadership and community engagement. We seek to identify student leaders who wish to gain organizational leadership skills and provide opportunity for others. We seek to connect with students and staff who wish to join us as we advocate, seek breakthroughs, build community, and find discoveries in the fight against cancer.