It’s a new year and thousands of communities around the United States are gearing up to put on their local version of Relay For Life, the signature fundraising event of the American Cancer Society. The activity involves teams of people walking around a track or designated route through a city or countryside – each walker is teamed with a partner or several partners to ensure that someone is taking steps throughout the duration of the event, which is set between 6 and 24 hours.
Relay for Life, Super Successful Fundraising Model
A person walking and being replaced tag-team style by a supporter symbolizes the fact that “cancer never rests,” but that determined people can fight back and outlast the deadly disease. Since the first proto-relay event was created by a single doctor walking alone in 1985, Relay For Life has blossomed into one of the most successful fundraising activities in U.S. history.
To date, Relay walkers have raised a spectacular $5 billion for cancer research. It started in the United States but the event has spread to 20 countries. Some 4 million people take part in relay For Life across 5,000 communities every year.
Local Communities, Local Spirit
A prime example is the community of Cumming, Georgia, in Forsyth County. The Relay For Life walk will begin this year on May 5 at 6 p.m. and run through midnight. Last year the good people of Forsyth County raised $261,772 in gross funds which yielded $242,379 in net profit.
More than $52,000 of that came from sponsorships. This is when a person agrees to “sponsor” a walker by offering to pay them X-amount of money for the duration of their walk, or for the pleasure of walking with them. This year the Forsyth group has set a goal of $275,000 to top the 2016 effort.
An Evolving Event
Relay For Life events have evolved to become more than just a walk on a single day, although all communities differ in how they organize their activities. Some make it a three-day event that features a variety of ceremonies.
One is the Luminaria Ceremony, a candlelight vigil held in honor of those who have died from cancer. Another is the Fight Back Ceremony in which individuals pledge to take specific actions to battle cancer.
Two and three-day Relay For Life events have a festive atmosphere featuring tents set up for food and fun activities, flea markets, entertainment and more. Most Relay For Life events also include a “Survivors Dinner”, where people share stories of how the disease has affected their lives, in order to both raise awareness and gain a bit of personal comfort.
Everything is then wrapped up with an inspirational closing ceremony. Teams who raised the most money or walked the furthest are presented with awards.
An Idea Takes Flight
The first Relay For Life (before it was called that) was completed in 1985 by Dr. Gordon Klatt, a colorectal surgeon from Tacoma, Washington. He wanted to find a unique way to raise money for cancer research and awareness. He pledged to walk around a track for a minimum of 24 hours.
Friends and supporters could pay $25 to walk with him for 30 minutes. Dr. Klatt ended up walking 83 miles, and thus raised $27,000 for cancer research. The next year 220 people on 19 teams joined him, leading to even more funds being collected for a good cause.
This effort accomplished by a single determined man inspired others to emulate his feat, and the rest is history. The concept of Relay For Life has proven to be an attractive and inspirational model for local communities to adopt. It enables people to come together for the benefit of others in the community who need hope and help as they fight for their lives against a deadly disease.
Image source: baptisthealth.net/breast-cancer/prepare-to-be-inspired/