For the past 11 years, hundreds of people have flocked to Juniper Valley Park to take part in the Middle Village chapter of the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.
They come together with three goals: raising money to help fight cancer, honoring those who lost the battle and celebrating survivors. The chapter’s co-chair, Alex Maureau, spoke about this year’s event at the Maspeth West End Block Association meeting last Thursday and he encouraged residents to support the cause.
“Ideally, I want every hand in the room raised so that’s why I’m here tonight,” Maureau told residents after asking who among them had participated in or heard of Relay for Life.
The notion of the overnight fundraiser, generally held at community parks or school athletics fields, first began with Dr. Gordy Klatt in 1985. The surgeon from Tacoma aimed to raise money for his community’s local cancer office and vowed to walk and run around his local track for twenty-four consecutive hours in order to do so.
Dr. Klatt rallied his friends and family for support, consequently raising about $27,000. The following year, hundreds of people wanted to participate and began forming teams. Together, they raised $33,000.
Today, Relay for Life takes place not only across the nation, but around the world. Since its creation, the organization has raised approximately $5 billion.
According to the American Cancer Society, more than one million people in the nation are diagnosed with cancer every year, making it the second most common cause of death in the U.S. Funds from Relay for Life are allocated towards cancer research and making remission more tangible for those who suffer from it.
But Relay for Life doesn’t just help raise money to improve the technology and knowledge necessary to conquer the disease. It also celebrates the victories of survivors and pays homage to those who weren’t so lucky.
Each Relay for Life kicks off with survivors joining together for a Victory Lap. Families and friends can dedicate a luminary bag with a message to a survivor, or someone who lost his or her life to cancer. The bags light up the track, and as part of the Luminaria ceremony, each name and dedication is read out loud.
According to Maureau, the Middle Village chapter raised $52,000 in its first relay, bringing together 19 teams and 12 registered survivors. Ten years later in June 2012, the chapter was able to raise $190,000 with 60 teams and 138 registered survivors. This year, the Middle Village chapter aims to continue the rising trend.
“We have an ambitious goal of $250,000,” Maureau said. “We’ve had a lot more momentum now than in the past, and it seems to be nationwide.“
The Middle Village chapter will begin this year’s Relay for Life with the Victory Lap on June 21 at 4 p.m. and end at 8 a.m. with the closing ceremony occurring on June 22.
Said Maureau: “It can be overwhelming for the first or second year people because there is so much going on, but the fact that you’re there is great enough. Anything you do that day is meaningful.”