MJ DeCoteau, Executive Director of rethink breast cancer

Intro by Andrea Iseman
Published: April 22, 2009

MJ Decoteau

MJ Decoteau

In a gorgeous loft space in downtown Toronto lies one of Toronto’s most innovative and successful non-for-profit organizations; rethink breast cancer. Executive Director, MJ DeCoteau, is a girly girl, who fills her office with girly music, has a lounge instead of a board room, and prides herself on creating a fun environment for all the people she works with. Formed with Alison Gordon in 2001, rethink breast cancer came from the idea MJ had about not understanding why pamphlets about breast cancer had to look so drab and ugly. Working with great designers, rethink puts a new face on the material by using creative and unconventional ways to communicate about the widespread disease that has touched every woman in some form. Besides being inspired by those around her and helping in the fight against breast cancer, MJ enjoys spending time with her five-year-old daughter and figure skating. Hoping to expand rethink into other areas of Canada, MJ wants rethink to be able to connect with all young women – whether it is someone online or in a small town.

Most of us will know about rethink having attended their annual fundraiser, which always proves to be the best bash to welcome summer. If you did not join the brigades of naughty sailors last year then make sure you are abreast (ahem) for this year’s celebration. Putting it all out there, rethink also titillates events with their photo booth, seen most recently at LG Fashion Week. It is an intimate boite that invites attendees to flash their tits to help build awareness. But perhaps their most notable fundraising endeavour is the rethink t-shirt campaign that is redesigned each year and sold on mass through major Canadian outlets; this year you will find the tees are distributed through Joe Fresh and on sale for $12, with each sale kicking back 100% to help the cause. If you are a design student – you have until April 30th to submit a new take on the re-think Target for a chance to win $1500 towards your design studies…and of course build some buzz about the amazing rethink t-shirt campaign. Chosen by a panel of celebrity judges, winner will be notified on May 29th and have their design showcased on the rethink website. A terrific portfolio piece, a contribution to a fantastic organization and some money in the bank….we don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t participate. For more info visit www.rethinkbreastcancer.com

And now, meet MJ DeCoteau, Executive Director and Co-founder of rethink. Find out how Toronto’s most talked about charity, amongst fashionable young women, runs so smoothly:

What does a typical Thursday look like for you, starting from when you wake up – to heading to bed?

Wake up between 7 and 7:30 am and try to be out the door by 8:30 am, which is not easy since I have a sweet, 5 year old and she doesn’t like to rush in the morning. I drop Annie off at her school on my way to work and once I hop back in the car, I’m on my cell for daily morning check-ins with my best friend Carlyn and partner in crime at Rethink, Alison. Even though I will see Alison momentarily we often check in by phone on our drive in. I make tea right when I get in to the office and chat quickly with Alison about family, life and work. Check email. My day usually consists of sending and responding to emails and having internal meetings with staff on various projects, events and programs. I’m often meeting with young women dealing with breast cancer or other leaders in the breast cancer field and sometimes my Thursday includes talking to the media. Alison and I usually run out to pick up lunch from Sandwich Box or Fresh by Juice for Life, which we eat at our desks while surfing the web or chatting. More meetings and emails all afternoon. Usually, someone will make a Starbucks run around 3 pm or 3:30. After work on Thursdays, I take Annie to a swim lesson. After dinner, bath and putting her to bed, I usually chat on the phone with a friend while tidying up or then catch up on emails that I didn’t get to or talk with Alison if there’s something time sensitive we are trying to figure out at work. I always read before bed, even if it’s just a page or two.

What was your first job out of school?

My first “job” after school was an unpaid internship at Toronto Life magazine.

What are the 3 skills you require most to do your job well?

Passion, Vision, Discipline

What do you love most about your career?

I get to work with amazing, smart, creative, dedicated people every day in a supportive, positive environment on projects that I’m really passionate and excited about that are making the difference in the lives of young women.

Do you have any warnings?

To quote Ah, Ha….”it’s not always better to be safe than sorry.”

If you could try a different career on for a year, what would it be?

Illustrate children’s books.

How has Rethink established itself differently from other charities?

We see ourselves as the boutique breast cancer charity. We have worked with young women and men across the country to create an organization that is relevant to people under 40 years of age. We’ve stayed true to our focus of helping young people concerned about and affected by breast cancer by thinking differently about how to beat breast cancer. Times have changed since we started the organization eight years ago and we work hard to continue to push the envelope.

What motivated you to begin Rethink?

It was very hard to lose my mother at a young age. It was especially difficult to not have her with me when my daughter was born. The decision to start a breast cancer organization dedicated to helping young women affected by and concerned about the cause was very organic. I went looking for information about my own risk factors and steps I could take to protect myself from breast cancer and everything I found was geared towards women over 50. Ten years ago, I was inspired by a lot of the great initiatives I saw going on in the AIDS community such as events in Toronto like FASHION CARES. There was nothing similar for breast cancer—everything was about pink ribbons and angel pins. I started at a very grass-roots level in my 20s, throwing events with friends to raise funds. Response from young people was great and it just snowballed from there. Very quickly, it was obvious that there was an opportunity for a new breed of breast cancer charity that could make the cause relevant to a younger generation.

What do you hope to achieve through the national design contest?

We are hoping to engage creative, young fashion design students in the breast cancer cause. We’ve always believed in using film, fashion, art, music to shed light on our important issues.

To view the post on its original website, click here. As well, visit the site for MJ’s five career tips.

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