por Mara Klecker
Michelle Bessett has always loved working with and helping other people. As AIM at Melanoma’s new Director of National Walks and Events, she’s most looking forward to connecting people to each other and to the organization’s mission.
Bessett, who stepped into the role in August, has a background in and passion for fundraising walks. After first serving as a team captain for a local Heart Walk, Bessett was hired on as a walk director with the American Heart Association – a position she held for five years.
“I love the atmosphere of walks,” she said. “I love connecting with people and hearing their stories.”
Bessett’s father had heart disease and she was honored to work for an organization that made a difference in the lives of patients like him as well as their families.
“The American Heart Association gave me an opportunity to work hard for other people and use my skills in a way that could truly make an impact in someone’s life,” she said.
Bessett feels that same sense of pride in her new role with AIM. Although she doesn’t have a personal connection to melanoma, her father died of lung cancer in August 2021. She often thinks about how she would have benefited from the kind of family resources and support that AIM provides to those facing melanoma.
“It’s so important for people to connect and know they aren’t alone,” she said. “My goal is to make an impact in the organization that is making such incredible impacts in the fight against melanoma…I just feel super lucky to be a part of such a great organization.”
Bessett, who lives near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, will be helping to provide year-round support for about 20 local walks across the country, and she hopes that number will keep growing.
“Every community is different so every walk will look different,” she said. “And that’s great – we’re not here to just tell walk volunteers what to do. We’re here to make sure their community knows what AIM is and what AIM can do to help them.”
The pandemic took a toll on in-person events and many walks had to go virtual over the last few years. Bessett is determined to rebuild the momentum and reengage people who’ve participated in previous walks, while also attracting new groups of melanoma patients, survivors and their families.
Walks are not just about fundraising for melanoma research, Bessett said. They are about community and about celebration.
“It’s all about creating that space of community so that when people leave a walk, they feel that they are surrounded by friends and they know who they can reach out to and connect with,” Bessett said. “Cancer is really scary. But walks offer a way to come together to celebrate the good and not just live in the bad. Because there is so much joy and support in these communities.”
After just a few days in her role, Bessett said she was already feeling inspired by her coworkers, by AIM’s mission, and by the stories she’s hearing.
“It keeps me humble and it keeps me working hard. I talk to people who are fighting every day. I’m determined to work hard for them.”