This article was published in the Lenoir News-Topic.
A 10-year-old boy crafts bird feeders out of peanut butter, birdseed and bagels. A cancer survivor plans a yearly golf tournament. A teacher creates handmade coasters.
And it’s all done with one thing in mind: a cure for cancer.
In Caldwell County and elsewhere, most people experience one night of Relay for Life, the American Cancer Society’s primary fundraiser. But that night of walking and camping out around a track is the culmination of months of fundraising.
“We Relay all year,” volunteer Christina McLean said. “We’re thinking and trying to do something all year long.”The actual around-the-track event takes place in May (this year’s is scheduled for May 2 at South Caldwell High). But the fundraising starts in earnest each January – Relay for Life of Caldwell County held its kickoff event on Monday and will continue to register teams throughout the spring.
Meanwhile, volunteers will pull out all the stops in an attempt to raise funds for cancer research.
One volunteer – Christina McLean’s 10-year-old son, Ethan – spends each Relay season selling bird feeders he makes out of old bagels smeared with peanut butter and dipped in birdfeed. This year, the Gamewell Elementary fifth-grader plans to expand and start selling birdhouses as well.
“There’s Relay for all ages, from as young as you can get to as old as you can get,” Ethan said. “The fight is for a good cure for cancer.”
Another Relay volunteer, committee co-chair Julie Overby, sees her contribution come together in clicks and posts on her computer screen. Overby, a cancer survivor, runs the Relay for Life of Caldwell County Facebook page, where she spikes her updates with plenty of hearts, exclamation points and other marks of enthusiasm.
“I can’t expect people to be fired up for Relay if I’m not,” Overby said. “By being a little neurotic and happy and trying to be a cheerleader for others, that’s the deciding factor about how much we post and what we post.”
Last year, Team Larson – led by cancer survivor Teresa Larson, a Gamewell Elementary teacher who also serves on the Relay committee as team recruitment chair – spent Relay season making homemade drink coasters out of floor tiles, a project they called “Coasting for a Cure.” They sold the coasters anywhere they could, from yard sales to Christmas bazaars.
This year, the team has a new slate of fundraisers up its sleeve, from a gospel sing to a womanless beauty pageant (for the latter, the men of the team will be donning dresses).
“I don’t stop Relaying,” Larson said. “I’m driven by it. I constantly talk about it and I’m constantly trying to educate people and get them to join.”
The months of work are worthwhile not just because money is raised but because Relay for Life gives hope to survivors and to those currently fighting cancer, said Matt Watkins, a cancer survivor who serves as committee chair and organizes a golf tournament to raise money for Relay each year.
“Even if a dollar never goes down to finding a cure, we provide a lot of hope for people around us, a lot of support,” Watkins said. “That’s the reason why I do it, because I do believe that, maybe not physically but emotionally, it makes a difference in people’s lives. I’ve seen it firsthand. There’s no question about it.”
And if Caldwell County’s Relay for Life volunteers got their way, they wouldn’t be the only ones thinking about Relay day in and day out.
“We want people thinking about finding a cure for cancer all day,” Overby said. “The bottom line is, if you’re a cancer survivor, you’re aware of your cancer every day.”
Anyone interested in getting involved with Relay for Life of Caldwell County can email Julie Overby at firstname.lastname@example.org.