On Sunday, Feb. 11, the Derry-Londonderry Relay for Life will kick-off another season with a fun, informal informational session at The Grind Rail Trail Café in Derry from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Relay for Life “is the premiere fundraising event” for the American Cancer Society, said Jackie Leavitt. She is the event leader for the relay at Pinkerton Academy, which is scheduled to be held on June 23.
Relay for Life events are usually held overnight, but this year, the one at Pinkerton will be held during the day.
“This year we’re really trying to change it around,” said Leavitt. She’s hoping this will encourage more survivors, caregivers and families to participate. “We always want to honor the survivors and caregivers as much as we can.”
Leavitt has been involved with the Derry-Londonderry Relay for Life for the last five of the event’s 20 years. Her fellow event leader, Bonnie Roberts has been involved for 15 years. They are both passionate about supporting the American Cancer Society and all of the programs that are funded through the relay walks.
“There’s so many things that the funds that we raise go towards,” said Leavitt. Some of the programs include cancer research, the “Look Good, Feel Better” which helps cancer survivors deal with their appearance post-chemotherapy, and the Hope Lodge, which offers free accommodations to cancer patients and their families who need to travel long distances for treatment.
Leavitt said last year’s Pinkerton relay raised around $85,000 for the ACS, and over $1 million since it started.
“If we could blow that out of the water, we’d love to,” she exclaimed.
She and Roberts rely heavily on corporate donations to make the event run. All costs come out of what is donated by the participants, so any services, time or goods that businesses offer allow more money to go to the ACS’s programs. Leavitt said they are “always looking for businesses” to help give to the relay. Local restaurants donate food, while clubs around town volunteer to staff or cook, and some of the trash services offer to help with the clean-up. Usually, Leavitt said, about 20 of the smaller local businesses and 10 to 15 corporations donate to the event.
It’s not only businesses that Leavitt and Roberts want to see get involved. The most important part of any Relay for Life is the people who come to support the cause. On average, about 600 to 900 people come to Pinkerton every year for the walk, said Leavitt.
“It’s a nice event on the Pinkerton track,” Leavitt explained. She and her team put together a series of other events throughout the day, like games, a photo booth and a bounce house. “The possibilities are endless to make it a really fun day,” she said.
Cancer survivors, caregivers, community members and supports all come together at the relay. Leavitt said Pinkerton and Londonderry High School usually have at least 4 teams each that attend, one from each grade. She’s had teams from the middle school and as young as elementary kids come.
“It’s such a fun day for the kids to come out, Leavitt said. “We’re there to celebrate the survivors and the caregivers.”
At the end of the night, once the sun sets, the relay begins its “Illuminati Ceremony,” which honors those who have lost the fight to cancer with an hour of silence and the lighting of lamps that are laid down the track.
“It’s a very emotional hour,” said Leavitt.
For Leavitt, the real honor is working with the survivors. “It hits me in a way that makes me want to continue working with relay.”
There is no cost to join and anyone can participate. You can be a group of one, or 100. You can raise a dollar or a million. You can be a survivor, a caregiver, someone who has lost a loved one to cancer or just want to help those who have.
“We all have our own personal stories of why we join relay,” said Leavitt.
Anyone who wants to participate can go to the info session on Feb. 11 at 11 a.m. at The Grind Rail Trail Café or contact Leavitt at email@example.com.