The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

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June 11, 2014

Relay for Life organizers try to boost involvement

SHENANGO VALLEY — A few years ago, seeing 100 survivors at the Shenango Valley Relay for Life event wouldn’t surprise organizers.

Last year, that number topped off in the low 60s.

Now, the American Cancer Society (ACS) is making a push to change that.

“I don’t think it’s due to lack of interest,” said Amy Lynn Clark, an ACS staff partner who has been planning Mercer County’s Relay for Life.

The event landed on the hottest day of the year in 2012, with the temperature topping 100 degrees. Last year, rain made for a dreary weekend.

“The weather has not played to our advantage, to say the least,” Clark said.

Carol Karol, a previous chair for the event and now on the Mercer County Volunteer Leadership Council for ACS, said that some survivors don’t come out because it’s a private matter for them.

In Karol’s tenure as chair, though, she did see families who would come out on their own to support the cause.

It’s also difficult to reach out to survivors due to privacy laws, Karol said.

Organizers have prioritized getting more survivors out this year.

“The second you’re diagnosed with cancer, you’re a survivor,” Karol said.

The “Survivor’s Lap” pairs a visual to the cause at hand. Anyone who has been diagnosed is invited to wear the purple survivor shirt and take a lap around the track together.

“It’s very empowering to see that many survivors on the track at one time,” Clark said.

The team working on this year’s event doesn’t see survivor participation alone as a weakness, though, event Chairwoman Melissa Jones said. They’re working to revamp the entire event.

“I think the event as a whole has needed a revitalization,” Jones said.

The push this year should be evident as the organizers bring this year’s theme to Buhl Farm park: “Carnival for a Cure.”

Stilt walkers, clowns, balloon artists and all the carnival staples will take over the event between 1 and 4 p.m. June 28. Every team participating will be setting up some sort of carnival game.

“It’s an old-school, kids-style carnival,” Clark said.

The event is open to the public, not just registered participants and survivors.

Among the festivities, attendees can expect a luminous ceremony, planned for dusk on Saturday, in memory of those who have lost the fight with cancer. Luminary bags will surround and light the track.

“Our focus is about celebrating, remembering and giving back,” Clark said.

The money raised will stay mostly local, going to things like the Patient Navigation System and research, which ACS is just starting to push.

“A huge chunk of our donor dollars stay local,” Clark said. “That research is taking place literally right in our backyard. That’s some serious bang for our buck.”

A lot of the research is done at the University of Pittsburgh. As of three years ago, ACS put $10 million to research there, Clark said.

“If we come together as a community, we can finish this fight,” Clark said.

Relay for Life will begin at 10 a.m. June 28, and will continue through 7 a.m. June 29, at Shelter 2.

“It’s because cancer never sleeps that we walk all night,” Jones said.

Survivors and general participants can register by calling the ACS office, 724-654-4409.

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