Passing the Baton
Several years ago when her mother and a close colleague were struggling with cancer, Messiah’s Vice Provost/Dean of Students Kris Hansen-Kieffer and her family decided to volunteer in their hometown for Relay for Life, an annual gathering sponsored nationwide by the American Cancer Society. “We felt, as a family, we wanted to do something,” recalls Hansen-Kieffer, who believes Relay for Life’s mission to raise awareness and money for cancer research is “critical.” What surprised her, however, was experiencing “the equally important, overwhelming sense of support in the event” for cancer survivors, caregivers, the bereaved, and people living with the disease.
For three years in Dillsburg, Hansen-Kieffer led a team of community friends, colleagues, and Messiah students who, as other participating teams across the nation, took turns walking or running around a track continuously for 24-hours to raise funds from sponsors for cancer research and to support those whose lives have been touched by the disease. Then last spring, one of Hansen-Kieffer’s team members, Messiah student Jennifer Myhre ’08, stepped up to organize a Relay event on campus, initiating and orchestrating Messiah’s first Relay for Life, hosted at the College in May.
“I was surprised to learn that many of our students had previously volunteered for the event in their hometowns,” remembers Hansen-Kieffer, who led one of the Messiah relay teams. “Their level of experience and participation was amazing to me”—which may explain the event’s exceptional outcome: More than 400 students, employees, and community friends participated on campus to raise over $40,000 for the cause, with special remembrance of the late Messiah College president Rodney J. Sawatsky, who died of a cancerous brain tumor in 2004.
“It was a way for the Messiah community not only to help support cancer research, but also to grieve and celebrate together,” says Hansen-Kieffer. “The participants' experiences with cancer were different, but they came together for this event.”