Parish teams embrace relay - Catholic Courier

Parish teams embrace relay

Nearly 500 people spent the chilly night of June 15 outdoors on the track at Midlakes High School in Phelps. Some of them had survived battles with cancer, and some carried with them the memories of loved ones who’d lost such battles, but each one of them spent at least part of the night walking around the track.

More than 30 members of St. Felix Parish in Clifton Springs and St. Francis Parish in Phelps were among the hundreds of people who spent the night raising money for the American Cancer Society though the organization’s annual Relay for Life. This was only the second year the Phelps and Clifton Springs communities have hosted a Relay For Life, said Louise Jones, organizer of the parishes’ All Saints relay team.

The relay has been taking place in communities across the nation for more than 20 years. The relay’s roots can be traced back to Tacoma, Wash., where in 1985 a surgeon named Dr. Gordy Klatt decided to raise money for his local American Cancer Society office, according to information on the relay’s Web site, Klatt, who was a marathon enthusiast, spent 24 hours that May circling a track while his friends paid $25 to run or walk with him for 30 minutes.

Klatt traveled the equivalent of 83 miles and raised $27,000 for the American Cancer Society that night, according to the Web site. The next year, 19 teams participated in the first team Relay For Life and raised $33,000 to fight cancer. The relay has grown steadily since then, and is now the world’s largest grassroots fundraiser and has raised more than $1 billion, according to the American Cancer Society.

The June 15 relay at Midlakes raised $26,164, according to the Relay For Life Web site. The All Saints team from St. Francis and St. Felix was the largest of the 44 participating teams and raised more than $430.

“It went well,” Jones said, noting that the team was made up of children, adults and even entire families.

“It’s a big event for the entire community. This year my father-in-law passed away from cancer. It kind of motivated my whole family to get involved and do it,” said Jones, who participated in the relay with her husband, Richard, and daughters Lauren, 18, and Haley, 13.

St. Francis parishioner Kathy Jacobs also joined the All Saints team with her husband, three children and seven members of their extended family. The relay was important to them because cancer has touched their lives many times, but it also was a fun way to spend the night, Jacobs said.

“It’s just nice to be able to spend some time together where there’s no distractions of computers or phones,” Jacobs said. “I think it’s important to teach our children that you have to be involved.”

All Saints team members raised money by soliciting pledges from family, friends and community members before the relay. Once the relay began, participants could also contribute to the cause by purchasing concessions, paying to participate in the extra games and activities held throughout the night or buying luminaries for $5 each, Jones said.

People who purchase the luminaries — which are bags with candles inside — usually emblazon them with the names of cancer survivors, people currently fighting cancer or deceased loved ones who suffered from cancer, she said. Those bags are then placed along the edges of the track and arranged in the bleachers to form the word “hope.” This is Jones’ favorite part of the relay, she said.

“The luminaria ceremony is always nice. It’s just very moving to see all those people’s names who have been affected by cancer in some way,” Jones said.

The relay at Midlakes began at 6 p.m. with a reception for cancer survivors. The opening ceremony began at 7 p.m. with music, prayer and laps around the track by cancer survivors and caregivers. The teams took to the track shortly after that, and there were participants walking on the track until the relay ended at 7 a.m.

“The goal is to have someone from the team on the track all the time. I think for the most part we accomplished that,” Jones said.

Relay participants had plenty to do when they were off the track. Games, contests, karaoke and a euchre tournament were held throughout the evening to keep people motivated, Jones said. One of the popular contests was the Ms. Relay contest, in which men and boys dressed as females and solicited donations from other relay participants.

“Whoever gets the most donations wins the Ms. Relay competition,” Jones said, noting that several of the All Saints males took part in the contest, using extra clothes her daughter brought to the relay.

There also was a Project Runway competition — just as in the popular reality show of the same name — where participants were given specific materials and told to design an outfit, she added.

Despite all the fun and unusual activities going on, there were still a few times when Jones and her teammates struggled to keep their eyes open.

“It is hard to stay awake. It does get pretty grueling by early morning,” she said.

The night also was unseasonably cold, which was hard on the adults but didn’t seem to have much effect on the kids, she added.

Nonetheless, All Saints team members seemed to enjoy themselves in spite of the cold weather and long night, she said. Raising money to help an organization fight a deadly disease seems to fit in with the mission of St. Francis, St. Felix and most Catholic parishes, she noted.

“I think any time you’re doing something to help the community, I think that is going to fit in with the mission of any church,” Jones said. “That ability to help others in your community is what I believe all churches try to do.”

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