Each year, hundreds gather at the football stadium at Clinton High School to take part in the annual Relay for Life event that celebrates those who have fought and won the battle against cancer and remember others who weren’t as lucky.
The annual event is scheduled for Friday, June 1, from 6-11 p.m.
Looking back over the last two decades, Sampson County residents have come together to raise more than $3 million to help support Relay for Life and the American Cancer Society.
Volunteers are once again preparing for the annual event, but with a slightly different twist — they are returning to the basics in an effort to revive a tradition that, they believe, has lost participation over time.
“Relay for Life is a great event that raises money for cancer research with a goal of beating cancer,” Morgan Sills, senior manager for community development and the American Cancer Society, said. “It’s also a great time to fellowship and strengthen the community and get people who have survived and beaten the disease together.”
According to Sills, no donation is too small, each and every dollar counts. All monies raised Friday night and from other fundraising from throughout the year go to help fund groundbreaking cancer research, patient care programs, and can make a difference in communities like ours.
Last year, numbers were down, and the Sampson County Relay for Life teams raised $99,805. This year, with new life being breathed into the event, the goal has been set at $125,000. The hope is that those who remember what Relay is really all about will draw people back to the tradition and bring new folks along too.
The first Sampson County Relay for Life was held June 1, 1996 and the county raised $12,000. That year and the year’s leading up to the most successful Relay, in 2006, one could feel the passion and the energy of a family-like atmosphere as it grew and prospered.
The event became one of the most anticipated and participated in that Sampson has ever seen, with thousands flocking to Clinton High’s football field to walk, to offer prayers, to show support and to watch as hundreds upon hundreds of luminaries lit up the night sky, all in an effort to raise awareness of the fight to find a cure for cancer and money to help with the battle. The most successful year was in 2006, when the county raised more than $400,000 for the cause.
Though still an important cause, support for the annual event began to dwindle and along with it the financial backing that Sampson’s Relay was known for having.
The American Cancer Society brands the event, providing everything with the ACS and Relay of Life logos on it, but the event has always been community driven.
“Adults, children, family members, friends, church members, coworkers, loved ones and strangers are still diagnosed with cancer every day,” Sills explained. “We still need to come together to fight. Relay has been such a blessing to so many survivors, caregivers and Relay supporters over the years. We don’t want that to ever end.”
The local Relay for Life committee is encouraging all survivors to attend the Survivors’ Dinner, planned for May 19 at 5 p.m. at Clinton Family Worship Center, and participate in the opening ceremony and Survivors’ lap around the track. Families, churches, businesses, schools and civic organizations are all encouraged to become active by forming a Relay for Life team and raising money for the American Cancer Society.
This year’s survivor’s lap is scheduled for 6 p.m. and will be followed by the caregiver’s lap.
Just as dark falls across the stadium, around 9 p.m., the luminaries and lanterns will be lighted — with each flame symbolizing the hope each survivor and cancer patient should have.
“The largest hope is the community coming out so that they can let the people know there is hope,” one event organizer said. “We want the survivors to know they are loved and be there as a community to support them.”
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.