Mary Toohey Carves Path at GWU Through Service
By Matt Renfer
Gardner-Webb junior Mary Toohey enrolled at the University in 2012 on a soccer scholarship, but suffered a concussion shortly after the start of her freshman year. With soccer out of the picture, she found herself at a crossroad. Transferring to another school became a real possibility.
“Then God just said ‘no.’ So I stayed here,” Toohey said. “I got involved with Relay for Life and a couple other things and really formed roots.”
Relay for Life is the signature fundraising event network of the American Cancer Society. International 24-hour events bring together communities to pay homage to lost loved ones, celebrate survivors and raise funds and awareness toward cancer research.
“A great thing about Gardner-Webb is that it’s small enough that you can be involved and it actually matter,” Toohey shared. “At other schools, in order to be involved, you have to know people. Gardner-Webb is on a smaller scale, so you can get a variety of experiences, and the chances of you knowing someone else participating is pretty good.”
For Toohey, a native of Winston-Salem, N.C., joining Relay for Life was personal. While she was a young teenager in high school, her grandmother, who lived with her at the time, passed away from colon cancer.
“I watched it completely destroy her body,” Toohey recalled. ”Everybody knows someone who’s had cancer, and for me, I saw that as a really great opportunity to help, having never been a part of a huge fundraiser like Relay for Life.”
Initially joining the organization her freshman year, Toohey amped up her involvement throughout her college career. Last year, she was the team development committee chair—the one in charge of fundraising and sign-ups.
“It was a lot of time and energy, but it was definitely worth it,” Toohey said. “It was a really good experience because I got to speak to a lot of people about Relay. I enjoy helping and doing anything that people need me to do in order to be successful.“
This year, Toohey will be head chair for Gardner-Webb’s Relay for Life chapter, which entails delegating tasks to multiple committees.
Now a biology major, Toohey says her college experience has worked out for the better as she continues to explore a variety of interests through campus life and volunteer efforts.
Not the least of those efforts is her leadership in Release, a University human trafficking awareness club, where she has flourished in similar fashion to Relay for Life. The club’s goal is to educate, inform and spread awareness to students, faculty members, and the community about the global issue involving human trafficking.
Toohey originally plugged in to Release during her freshmen year to pursue an interest in human justice that sparked in her earlier high school years. During the summer before her sophomore year, she attended a NorthStar conference in Atlanta, GA., with Release members, which she says lit the fire in her to find new ways of raising awareness and financial support against human trafficking.
With newfound passion, Toohey later became vice president as a sophomore before assuming co-presidency of Release in her junior year. Her responsibilities entail running meetings, organizing leadership for social media, communicating with outside sources, and planning events with club members and other groups on campus, among other tasks.
“Coming to Gardner-Webb gave me the tangible means to do something with the information I had,” Toohey said. “Release was the perfect outlet for my interest in human justice.”
Though her original plans to play soccer were ultimately thwarted, Toohey has made service her sport. True to form, she now also serves the Gardner-Webb soccer team as a manager, assisting in the needs of players and their equipment.
“It’s great when people get involved, and I think a lot of students are willing to,” she said. “We never have too many hands. The community wants you to be involved—they want to invite you into their homes, to be a part of their lives and to invest in Boiling Springs. It makes you feel like a better person when you help other people.”