Fairfield Now - Spring 2008
Class of '04 profile:
Mary Kate Parsons: Inspired to care
By Meredith Guinness
Armed with a degree in communication and a minor in marketing, Mary Kate Parsons '04 could have snagged a job at a big city marketing firm, complete with a hectic lifestyle and a hefty paycheck. She chose instead to follow her heart.
As database manager at New York-based CancerCare, she's responsible for training, technical support and uploads, developing security profiles, and integrating everything from fundraising to clinical data for the organization, bringing needed funds and assistance to those living with the disease and to their loved ones. Through the development staff's efforts, this non-profit is better able to identify potential and longstanding donors and coordinate fundraising efforts. Approximately 91,000 people a year receive the benefits through crucial counseling, education, a vital website, and practical and financial assistance.
Being able to combine her education with her passion for helping others has been very satisfying for Parsons. Now living in Maplewood, N.J., Parsons was a student service leader through Campus Ministry and volunteered with Special Olympics and a Bridgeport high school mentoring program while at Fairfield. "The whole Jesuit idea of serving others really played into that," she said. "The bottom line is I want to do something in my profession that's in line with my ideals."
These days, she spends most of her time on the technical end of the operation, but often gets to see the fruits of her labors in the faces of people who've been served by CancerCare. When Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf coast in 2005, the organization received donations to help people with cancer who had been affected by the storm. With about $650,000 in assistance, the group helped more than 500 individuals. One woman, who had breast cancer surgery just three days before Katrina hit and who had to be evacuated, came to speak at CancerCare's 2007 Human Services Awards Dinner.
"She was so grateful to be alive and for CancerCare's help," Parsons said. "She hugged and thanked each staff member and really put our mission into perspective for me. Here I am a staff member in development, but somehow my work helped someone."
In her three years with CancerCare, Parsons has worked on events, direct marketing, and individual giving, allowing her to meet people across the cancer spectrum – those with the disease, their family members, as well as social workers. Sometimes her job involves simply listening to others. "In the first couple of years, I did a lot of work with donor services where many
people call to give a donation in memory of someone they lost," she said. "Those are some of the nicer moments when you're there for someone who wants to talk about the person and do something proactive to honor their memory."
Though she works at a non-profit, Parsons sometimes wonders if she is doing enough. In addition to planning her 2009 wedding to her fiancé Patrick Cahiwat, she hopes to get involved in more volunteer activities outside of work, particularly efforts to protect the environment. Listening to Al Gore and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. speak at one of the historic Live Earth concerts last July also motivated her to act on her concerns.
A career at an environmental group may be in her future, but for now, she's content at CancerCare, where she's gaining skills that will help her help others for years to come. "There are a lot of great people here who have taught me professionally and personally," she said. "But I know I still have a lot to learn."