Relay for families

Event changes time, activities

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By Ann Hawksby, Messenger Correspondent

Messenger Contributor

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ST. ALBANS — Relay for Life is making some changes this year.

Instead of being an overnight event, it will last from noon to midnight on June 25.

There’s also this year’s theme – Dance through the decades.

Being part of Relay inevitably brings up somber memories, but Jennifer Clark, community manager of the New England Division of the American Cancer Society, suggested it could also be a time to get together and have fun.

“That’s what we were thinking when we came up with the 2016 theme,” she said. “There are literally decades of survivors, of families, friends, all coming together to take action against cancer.”

“Starting with the ‘Roaring Twenties’ people from each decade had music they loved to dance to, and we hope they still do,” added Clark. The event schedule offers bands, singers, music, dance and exercise routines in celebration of each of the last ten decades, with “something for everyone,” Clark explained.

The Smugglers’ Activity Group will help keep things exciting with relay races and other games in the ballfield areas.

“The first Relay for Life Franklin County was back in 1998, it was held at the Swanton School from 6 pm until midnight, and they raised somewhere around $20,000,” said Clark. “Now we’re bringing in at least six times that.”

“We’ve seen a tremendous growth but we see the need to make some changes. We can’t expect people to stay overnight in the cold rainy weather,” she said.

Relay organizers felt that 6 pm to 6 am was just too much for people, especially those with young children, so they made the decision to revert back to the original times, Clark explained.

“We still have the opening ceremony, survivors sharing stories, and the dark hours, which we do during the darkest part of the night, and we still celebrate the light at the end of the tunnel with our closing ceremonies,” she added.

Another goal this year is to have all the survivors meet on the stage, and get a group photo.

“I’ve been to the Relay for Life in Burlington and was there among the survivors, and it is just so powerful, so inspiring, we need to feel that here,” Clark said.

“Because the Relay is also about awareness, we want to reach out to our teens; to teach them to be aware of their bodies and to be alert to any changes and investigate early,” Clark said, noting that Vermont has a very high cancer rate.

“The earlier the diagnosis, the better the chances of survival,” she said.

Clark pointed out that already this year the event income is up some 70 percent, and the number of participants, survivors involved, teams, and sponsors has also risen significantly.

“We now offer other ways to donate and to sponsor the events, such as the Touch of Light, where people or businesses can purchase luminaria bags for $5 in memory of those who lost their battle with cancer,” Clark said.

Another example of community involvement is St. Albans Hannaford’s donation of 3,000 cans of pet food to be used to anchor luminary bags instead of the traditional sand. They have also volunteered to do the set up and take down following the ceremony. Clark explained the pet food will be donated to the Franklin County Animal Rescue after the event.

Even the food served will be changed this year to include a family barbeque and a pig roast, again with the idea of trying to make things a little more on the fun side, Clark explained.

“We really encourage people to check out our event schedule and maybe come to the parts they want to participate in; they don’t have to join a team to come to the Relay events,” Clark said.

“It’s amazing to see new faces each year, but it’s also a challenge to keep people interested, and wanting to come see what the Relay for Life is all about,” she said.

“We want to outgrow the Collins Perley Sports Complex,” Clark bantered.

“Not really,” she said, “This has always been a great place for us and the staff here works hard to accommodate our needs.”

“It’s just nice to dream, it never hurts to dream,” Clark added.

Visit www.relayforlife.org/franklinvt, or go to their Facebook page to see the event schedule or to find ways to participate or donate. For more information contact Jennifer Clark at Jennifer.clark@cancer.org or call (802) 872-6323.