Cancer Society honors Polk County Relay For Life
Polk County Enterprise, October 2007
LIVINGSTON — Organizers for the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life kicked off the 2008 events with a conference in Dallas where regional and national ACS oficials congratulated Polk County for its tremendous success.
The 2007 event chaired by Jennifer Birdwell and James E. Baugh ranked No. 1 among 52 events in the East Texas region and 12th in the eight-state division.
Baugh and this year’s co-chair Tammy Ogletree are eagerly making plans for the 2008 extravaganza.
The seventh annual Relay For Life will kick-off Nov. 8 amid plans for another record-breaking year. The kick-off Rally will be held at 5:30 p.m. at the Chamber of Commerce on the Hwy 59 Bypass.
The Rally will last about an hour and includes award presentations to top fundraisers from 2007, gifts for all in attendance and the opportunity to learn more about ACS, Relay For Life, and sign up as a team, individual, survivor or caregiver. A survivor is someone who has been diagnosed with cancer of any kind — even if it’s only for one day — and a caregiver is someone who has been the primary caregiver for someone who has or is battling cancer.
Relay For Life is a fun-filled overnight event designed to celebrate survivorship and raise money for research and programs of your American Cancer Society. During the event, teams of people gather at the Trade Days area of Pedigo Park and take turns walking or running laps. Each team tries to keep at least one team member on the track at all times.
“This year’s Relay For Life event is shaping up to be an even bigger blow-out than last year with an exciting Mardi-Gras theme and a new component to the evening’s ceremonies,” said event chairman James Baugh.
Anyone who has attended a Relay For Life event is familiar with the vibrant celebration surrounding the cancer survivors’ lap and the solemn remembrance during the candlelit luminaria ceremony. This year a new ceremony will be added to all Relay events across the country. The Fight Back ceremony will be an opportunity for event attendees to join ACS CAN and discover powerful new ways to fight back individually and collectively.
The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), the sister advocacy organization to the American Cancer Society, has launched a major initiative to make the issue of access to health care a state and national priority. From passing laws improving access to life-saving screenings to ensuring the ongoing development of new cancer treatments, ACS CAN is dedicated to making meaningful access to health care a reality in this country. Another big issue that ACS CAN is backing this year is passage of Proposition 15 on the ballots come Nov 6.
“I’m amazed every year when people show up for the first time to find the biggest fund raiser in the county underway and everyone is smiling, laughing, walking and having a great time,” said Patricia Crawford who is serving her third year as Teams Co-Chair.
The evening begins with an opening lap walked by cancer survivors and their caregivers. This lap is followed by the opening lap for the teams after which the entertainment gets under way.
From school choirs to dance contests there is something for everyone. Throughout the night there is so much food and so many activities that it’s hard to decide what to eat, watch or do. There’s the ever popular buddy boards race, Relay Feud – Polk County’s answer to Family Feud, the frozen t-shirt contest, video games, the kazoo lap, dance lessons, Simon Sez and the list goes on.
In addition to all the fun and festivities Relay has a serious side that focuses on raising money to fund research, provide education and services to people fighting cancer, offer support and guidance to family members and loved ones and to advocate on behalf of cancer victims before state and national legislative bodies.
Last year’s Relay For Life of Polk County event on April 27-28 brought in funds in excess of $239,000, nearly $85,000 greater than the amount raised the previous year.
“We’re aiming for modest increases again this year,” said Baugh, “but this community has a way of exceeding expectations that keeps our divisional ACS leaders in awe and our fellow events green with envy.”
“Two years ago the most we had ever raised was $106,000 but we set our 2006 goal at $120,000 and had that much raised before the night of the event,” said Jennifer Birdwell, event chairman for 2006 and 2007. “We ended up with $155,000 that year and won the top award for our region. We were all thrilled but didn’t figure we could raise much more so last year we set our goal at $170,000 and raised nearly $240,000.”
Dramatic increases in sponsorship dollars was partly responsible for the rise with sponsor dollars growing from $10,000 to $30,000 in two years time. Sponsorship Chair Allison Evans has a way of turning on the charm and turning ‘no’ into ‘yes’ and getting extra zeros added to sponsor amounts.
However, the biggest single factor in the large jumps has been the year-round effort of the teams who turn a dollar at a time into thousands by Relay night.
“We could never do it without our team involvement and that in turn translates to community involvement,” says Team Chair Tammi Ogletree. “This is not just an accomplishment for the committee or the teams but for our entire county because it’s individual people buying ‘Believe’ shirts and raffle tickets and luminaria bags and barbecue plates that make this happen.”
The Polk County event is the top per capita event in the East Texas region which includes 52 other events and is the third largest per capita event in the 711-event, six-state division which includes Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Hawaii.
“The largest total dollar event in Texas is the Bay Area Relay in Baytown but their per person numbers aren’t even close to ours,” said grinning event treasurer Casey Evans Smith.
A large portion of the money that is raised at events in Texas stays right here to fund research and treatment at places like M.D. Anderson and to fund services like 800-ACS-2345 the toll-free number with operators available 24 hours a day to answer questions about cancer, mail out literature and educational materials to the newly diagnosed, or simply to lend a compassionate ear in the middle of a long dark night.
“Relay is a local opportunity for individuals, families and co-workers whose lives have been touched and forever changed by cancer to do something constructive,” said Baugh. “It is very healing and empowering to get involved in this organization and play even a small part in changing the battle future generations will fight,” says Baugh who lost his 29-year-old wife Marilyn to breast cancer the year before Polk County had its first Relay.
“What I am doing today through the American Cancer Society and Relay For Life means hope for my daughter and son.”