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CWRU, Cleveland community prepare for Relay For Life

This spring will mark the momentous five-year anniversary of Relay For Life at Case Western Reserve University. Relay is a national philanthropic sensation benefitting the American Cancer Society that aims to unite communities under a common cause to heal and inspire those touched by cancer. Since the Power of Purple event in February, Relay For Life has been gaining momentum in preparation for the big event at the end of this month.

Relay For Life’s growing popularity at CWRU has turned it into an enormous community-wide event with over 1000 participants each year. The event brings together CWRU students, staff, and faculty and the greater Cleveland community to celebrate cancer survivors, remember those who were lost, and fight back for the future.

Relay For Life returns this year with new,exciting events and an overall fresh schedule for their five-year anniversary at CWRU.

“We’ve been very bold and outgoing about the changes that we’ve made this year,” said undergraduate Tricia McCutchan, this year’s undergraduate co-chair and member of the Relay For Life steering committee. “We have had four very successful years, so we were able to go out on a limb to change what CWRU students think of Relay.”

Every year, Relay For Life centers around three core elements that shape the entire Relay experience.

“The whole motto of Relay is ‘Celebrate, Remember, and Fight Back,’ and that plays out throughout all of the ceremonies,” said Angela Lowery, Center for Civic Engagement and Learning (CCEL) student service coordinator and this year’s Relay For Life staff co-chair.

The “Celebrate” aspect kicks off the event with an opening ceremony and a speech from CWRU President Barbara Snyder before the annual Survivors Lap.

“[It is] a great time to celebrate the whole campus community coming together,” Lowery said of the opening part.

The “Remember” portion begins at sundown with the Luminaria Ceremony, a time to reflect on those who were lost. According to Lowery, this is “so powerful that we need a little bit of a break or time to reflect”.

“But the energy ramps up again for the Fight Back Ceremony,” she continued, which keeps the energy alive until the closing ceremony at dawn with activities like self-defense classes and a birthday party to represent the American Cancer Society’s mission of creating a world with less cancer and more birthdays.

The new schedule will allow the event to begin during the day instead of at dusk, providing time for more flexible activities and lasting participation.

“I’m most excited about our new time this year,” McCutchan said. “We’re starting during the afternoon on a Saturday instead of the evening on a Friday to incorporate a bigger fundraising window and to bring in different audiences.”

The new time will allow for a brand-new tailgate event during registration before the opening ceremony. It will be a carnival-style atmosphere with performances, cooking demos, and sports tournaments catering to graduate students.

Relay is also adding a new program called the Virtual Survivor Program, in which a participant can walk in place of a cancer survivor in the Survivors Lap if the survivor cannot make it to the event. “It’s a cool way to represent that person that you love that you know has battled cancer,” Lowery said.

This year’s Relay will also feature some of the popular traditional events, such as the Miss Relay Pageant – “a very-student oriented event,” according to McCutchan – in which contestants, usually male, participate in a parody of a Miss America pageant, with a talent portion, an evening gown contest, and question and answer challenge. The pageant will take place at 1:30 a.m..

“I am personally most excited about spending the whole night there,” Lowery said. “I think the mood changes all throughout the whole evening, and the excitement builds as we reach the closing ceremony.”

Behind the scenes, Relay For Life has been a year-long planning process. Under the direction of the Relay advisor, Colleen Barker-Williamson, the steering committee consists of a graduate student co-chair, an alumni co-chair, and a faculty co-chair, who is Michael Kenney this year. These chairs are in addition to staff co-chair Lowery and undergraduate co-chair McCutchan.

“I think it’s really important for staff to be involved in this event,” said Lowery, who coordinated a dress-down day right after spring break to promote staff participation. Michael Kenney organized a faculty wine reception to promote faculty participation.

A total of 65 teams have signed up for Relay so far. “There are so many different teams, that there is really a group for anyone,” Lowery said. “You can choose to join any team and really be a part of it. We encourage groups to continue to sign up and be a part of the event.”

Involvement initiatives have been contagious this year, with more staff and faculty participants than in the past. Families and new teams from local Brush, Orange, and Shaker Heights High Schools have also joined Relay.

“We have 100 percent Greek participation this year,” Lowery said. “We just need those Greek members to join their teams!”

This year is seeing over 100 volunteers, and this is the first year CCEL has had an official involvement. “Relay is a great leadership opportunity for students,” Lowery said. “I think cancer is one of those things that affect all of us. It doesn’t matter if you’re a staff member or college member or how old you are.”

All proceeds go directly to the American Cancer Society and are returned to the Cleveland region to be utilized locally. Funds raised help support local cancer researchers at the Cleveland Clinic, the CWRU School of Medicine, and the local American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge, which provides a safe space for families with a loved one going through treatment.

“Our goal is to raise $75,000, which is a good amount for the CWRU community,” Lowery said. “I think we can definitely do it, I’m just always impressed by our goal.”

Relay For Life 2012 will be held from 1 p.m. Saturday, April 21 to 7 a.m. the next day. A full schedule of events and registration information can be found online.

“You’re making a difference just by being there and participating in the activities,” McCutchan said. “With the way the event schedule works, there’s something for everyone.”

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