For Caitlyn Hayes and SophiaRose Brown, being part of Teen Relay For Life’s leadership team was important to each of them of different reasons.
For Hayes, a senior at Normal Community West High School, her father was diagnosed with colon cancer when she was five years old. It took his life five years later. She said her sister got the family involved in the annual Relay event held in late June by Relay For Life of McLean County as a result. “But once I got to high school, I really wanted to take control of things and that led me to the leadership team” of the teen event, she explained.
A total of 24 students from four high schools will help put on the 7th Teen Relay For Life from 6p.m. Friday, May 6 until 6a.m. Saturday, May 7 at Tri-Valley High School in Downs. Students from local schools participating include those from NCHS, Normal West, and Tri-Valley. Students from Stanford Olympia High School are also taking part, as well.
University High, Bloomington High School, and Bloomington Central Catholic High School do not have any participation in this year’s event.
There is no doubt NCHS’ Brown has a drive to raise funds for the cause and she and her fellow organizing committee members are always looking for young people to help bring in other kids who may or may not have shared an experience such as hers. For Brown, seeing her maternal grandmother battle the disease three times gave her impetus to become involved with Teen Relay For Life.
“Having to watch my mother go through watching what my grandmother went through led me to get involved,” Brown said. “I hate seeing my mom go through any kind of struggle. It was really hard to watch her watch something so tough. I don’t want another daughter to have to watch their mother go through something so tough. That’s why I’m involved with this.”
“Cancer doesn’t discriminate,” Brown said. To her and the organizing team’s way of thinking, she explained, cancer doesn’t care where you live. She said a large group of kids from Tri-Valley High School have thrown themselves into being involved with the Teen Relay. The goal of these students is for this year’s event to raise $25,000. If that amount is the final total of the event, or whatever the final total turns out to be, will be added to the total money raised at the annual Relay For Life of McLean County event to help give the area its grand total. The annual Relay For Life of McLean County event will be held at NCHS on June 23-24.
“We have a lot of really good bands coming this year,” Brown said. Paper Planes is the name of one of the bands scheduled to appear (it’s a local band, and no, like many of you who follow this column, I’ve never heard of them, either). The National Guard will bring their rock climbing wall, and there will also be basketball and volleyball as a couple of the activities which will keep the kids busy – and active – during the event.
Hayes and Brown explained part of the event will take place in the school in addition to being out on the school track. There will be teams of up to 12 students circling the track for the Relay.
In addition to the activities, there will be ceremonies honoring cancer survivors and caregivers, and a luminaria ceremony. A luminaria ceremony involves bags with the names of survivors or those who have lost their battle to cancer being remembered by the students. The bags have a small light in them to honor the person being remembered.
“The leadership being displayed by this group of young people is unparalleled,” said Kimberly Wright, community manager for American Cancer Society’s Peoria Office. Wright oversees not only the Teen Relay, but the Relay held on Illinois State University’s campus in the spring and the McLean County event.
“Because I see them work on this, I have the privilege of seeing their leadership skills flourish,” Wright said. “All of them are Relaying for a different reason. They are doing it for a personal reason or a higher purpose, and they are all committed to our mission – to end the pain and suffering of cancer.”
Wright said it’s the kids who do all the planning to get this event assembled and ready. She serves as the support person the kids’ use to get materials from ACS to accomplish their task.
Considering the cause and the dedication and determination shown by what I observed at the meeting I attended and from what I learned from Hayes and Brown and Wright, this year’s event should be a success.