The 2011 Relay for Life of Greater Milford starts at 5 p.m. Friday at the Milford High School track and will run through the night until 11 a.m. Saturday. Sponsored by the American Cancer Society, this year's event will include more than 46 teams of walkers and has already raised more than $50,000 for assisting patients, offering support and advancing a cure for all cancers.
Anyone who has walked in the event can attest that it is more than just fundraising: it is an experience. Every walker walks for a different reason. There are survivors, family, friends and neighbors coming together to celebrate the possibility of more birthdays. It is emotional and hopeful. If you have never been, you are welcome to come by Friday and walk a few laps. There is no charge. At 9 p.m., candles will be lit inside paper bags, known as luminarias, which are decorated with the names of loved ones lost. The bags line up, side by side, and wind around the track. If you are a survivor or someone who has lost a friend, this is a nice time to come and experience this event. Everyone, it seems, has been touched by cancer.
Some of this years strongest and most enthusiastic teams are students. They say a child will lead.
Jenna Smith is a seventh grader at Stacy Middle School. Her team "The Jr. ASH Kickers," is one of this year's top fundraising teams. Kayla Smith, Jenna’s older sister and a sophomore at Milford High, is captain of another top team,"Team MEAT (Making Everyone Aware Together)." Milford Patch profiled their family’s amazing story in February. So, while it is not a wonder why these girls are so committed to this event, it is amazing the effort and organization they have put into raising money and thanking their teammates.
Jenna has about 20 team members, most of them seventh graders. They raised more than $700 in a Yard/Bake Sale last month and also held a fundraiser at Friendly’s, heavily advertised with homemade flyers.
“The support has been amazing," Jenna Smith said. "Not just from my circle of friends but from a whole new circle of friends that I’ve connected with because of the walk.” She continued: “It is the best thing I’ve done. Everyone on my team is so excited for Friday, they all worked hard to reach their goals and now we’re ready to walk.”
The Jr. ASH Kickers' mascot is a butterfly, a symbol Smith said stands for “new life and new beginnings.” She made certificates of “Amazing Effort” to hand out to all her teammates and her grandma made pillows for every girl with a butterfly on the front and room on the back for them to all sign their names.
Kayla Smith started her fundraising in February.
“I took our Christmas list and just started writing out letters from that," she said. "I got a great response. The donations started rolling in.”
Her team has about 17 members and their fundraising included a Dairy Queen event. They also plan a pie-eating contest on the night of Relay. Her advice to new or reluctant walkers?
“Don’t be intimidated by raising $100. You can do it.”
Caitlin Powers, also a sophomore at Milford High, is captain of the "Cancer Warriors." She has been walking at Relay ever since she saw a presentation at Middle School East conducted by Karen Healey, one of the event's organizers.
“She came and talked to us about Relay and I knew I wanted to get involved," Caitlin said. "Everyone is affected by cancer. I’ve been walking with the same core group of friends for the last three years.”
The Cancer Warriors held a yard sale that brought in more than $700 and they plan on face-painting the night of the Relay in order to earn a few more dollars for the cause.
Sarah Harvey, a freshman, has been participating in Relay since she was a 2-year-old. She lost her Nana to cancer, and never knew her, which is why she walks. Her team is Tumble Team.
“The Relay is a great way to support all of the people we’ve lost by walking in their honor but it’s also a way to connect to each other because we are all going through the same thing," Sarah said. "It’s worth every minute.”
To donate to any of these teams, or "The Fun, Fun Fuzzy Llamas," whose story was profiled in Patch, or to Milford's general Relay fund, click on the links. Every dollar is appreciated. No amount is too small.