At Relay for Life events, communities across the globe come together to honor cancer survivors, remember loved ones lost and fight back against a disease that has already taken too much, according to Relay for Life.
The public can get involved locally by attending the Relay for Life of Tift County, which kicks off at 7 p.m. Friday at the E.B. Hamilton Complex and Optimist Park with the opening ceremony. A survivor reception will be held at 6 p.m. at the pavilion.
Miles Drummond is a co-chair and handles the event aspect on the Relay for Life committee, and Marlena Thomas, who is the other co-chair, handles the teams and funds raised. However, they both work together to organize a successful event, along with other volunteers on the Relay committee. Drummond said there are nine to 10 volunteers on the executive team. He thanked everyone on the committee for their dedication and for doing their part. Anyone interested in volunteering on the committee can sign up at Friday's event.
Drummond said they're expecting a large crowd Friday, because they have a lot of teams who have signed up to participate this year. He said a last count the number of teams signed up was about 40, which is more than last year, including returning teams.
Those interested in signing up can visit the website www.relayforlife.org/tiftga. Drummond said information about the event is provided on the website as well, or people can call American Cancer Society staff partner Erin Burgess Bruzek at 229-292-6572 for any questions. You can also visit their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/RFLTIFT, where updates about the event will be posted.
Drummond said anyone can register right up until Friday. Most teams sign up ahead of time in order to raise funds, although some teams do their fundraising the night of the event also.
He said their goal this year is about $150,000. In the last few years, they've been right at their goal. Their official "Bank Night" was held Monday. This was the teams’ last opportunity before Relay to turn in money. Drummond noted some teams will turn in their money the night of the event also.
"We have a lot of new teams and a lot of great fundraisers this year," he said.
He said they've had a number of 5K runs, with one team doing a Color Run. He noted the Tift County Schools always do a 5K Run. Additionally, there has been a lot of cookouts, raffles and T-shirt sales.
"They're doing a lot of things to really bring in a lot of money for Relay for Life this year," Drummond said. "We're really excited. We have a lot of good teams."
On the day of the event, there will be a lot going on throughout the night, including live entertainment and different games, such as a soccer tournament, volleyball, badminton, cornhole and horseshoes. Drummond said people can sign up as a team with friends, whether they have a Relay team or not.
He added there will other fun entertainment, such as a cotton-eyed Joe dance marathon, jump rope marathon, pie eating contest and much more from the main stage. He said they will also have a "Banking On a Cure" auction. Decorated piggy banks by some teams will be auctioned off to different people in the audience. Drummond said this is a big thing every year where they have raised thousands of dollars each time. They also do a cake auction where people come out and bring all types of cakes. This brings in thousands of dollars as well, Drummond said.
He said the Relay teams will be set up like last year. Some will be selling food, such as funnel cakes, popcorn, cotton candy, snow cones, hot dogs and barbecue sandwiches.
"Any food that you want, there will be teams there selling that," he said. He added some teams will also have carnival games. One team will have a dunking booth.
"There will be a lot of things for people to come out and do with the family or by themselves," Drummond said.
During the opening ceremony, the night will begin with the survivors’ and caregivers’ laps around the track.
"Even if people wanted to just come out and support our survivors during that time where we kind of celebrate them and what they've been through and the caregivers," he said. "We just want people to come out and support in any way that they can."
At 9 p.m., the luminary ceremony will begin. Drummond said, "This is a special time to remember those or do something in honor of people who have lost their battle to cancer."
They have bags and torches for purchase to honor those people. Last year, they announced the names of those being honored and the family members or friends representing that individual take the torch and walk around the track and place it. Drummond said this is an emotional moment for everyone, and it’s planned again as part of this year’s event.
They also plan to do a balloon ceremony again this year, where white glowing balloons bearing names and messages are released. Drummond said this was a moving ceremony last year.
He noted people can still purchase a bag, torch and balloon up until Friday before the opening ceremony. They can be ordered in advance on their website.
Drummond said Tift County is a very strong Relay community. He said for a community this size, Tift County has been in the top rankings in terms of money and the event for many years.
"Cancer's something that has touched everybody," he said. "If you haven't had it, you had a family member or you know somebody from your church or school."
Drummond said a lot of times people don't know where the money goes, but it goes toward cancer research, resources and advocacy. He noted people can call 1-800-227-2345 for cancer information any time, day or night. He also mentioned the Hope Lodge located in Decatur, where family members of cancer patients can stay there free of charge while they're getting treatment.
Drummond said they have a huge branch in Tifton called ACS CAN (the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network). He said this group travels to the Capitol in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. to advocate for cancer research and legislation. He added they also make sure from a government perspective that "we're not forgetting our cancer patients and future generations to make sure they get screenings, resources and health care."
"We want to make sure that their voices are heard," Drummond said.
When referring to Friday's event, he said, "People think of it as one night, but it goes to so many different things. A lot of that money comes right back to southwest Georgia."
He thanked all of their sponsors and teams this year.
"We appreciate all of our teams being extra resourceful in their fundraising," he said.
Drummond said they have some new sponsors this year. Their two new presenting sponsors are Heatcraft and Tennesson Nissan.
"We're very thankful they have come on board," he said, noting Tennesson was a sponsor last year, but they increased their goal this year. Also, Wal-Mart is a new sponsor this year. He added they have a lot of churches and community groups that have united by the cause to raise a lot money.
Drummond commented that the recent survivor dinner was phenomenal. He thanked all of the survivors who came out and those who helped prepare and organize the event. They were able to offer the dinner to the survivors and their families for free. LongHorn Steakhouse and Olive Garden provided the meals free of charge, and students from Tift County High School and Tiftarea Academy volunteered their time to serve. The entertainment was also free and the University of Georgia Tifton Campus Conference Center set everything up. About 250-275 people attended.
"That's the kind of support we get from the community," Drummond said. "We're just so appreciative of it."
To contact reporter Latasha Ford, call 382-4321.