Woolwich’s Relay for Life continues to gain traction and support those affected by cancer, as busy committee members prepare for its third year at St. John’s-Kilmarnock School in Breslau next month.Co-chairs and SJK teachers Carey Gallagher and Tracey Duldhardt launched the first Woolwich relay in 2013 to honor their friend and colleague, Leanna Bedford, who passed away from cancer, while also supporting those in the community still dealing with the disease.
“She left behind a 16-month-old baby,” Gallagher said. “Leanna and I were pregnant at the same time. It was really hard when she passed away because I would look at my little son Cale and they were just a few months apart. And here Cale got his mommy and Dylan didn’t. Tracey and I were very grief-stricken at the time. We needed to do something. You can either channel your grief inward or it has to come out. Tracey and I decided to try to make a difference in the bigger community.”
They’ve changed the event a bit this year, in hopes of attracting more families who have been on the fence about participating. Instead of doing the traditional overnight event, it will run from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m., with the usual activities and entertainment for all ages.
“My goal was to prove the biggest hearts come from the smallest towns,” Gallagher said. “We exceeded our goal both years the relay has run so far.”
This year’s goal is $133,000, a number calculated by the Canadian Cancer Society based on past participation and funds raised. They raised nearly $146,000 in 2013 and more than $126,000 last year.
“We won a number of awards the first year we were up and running,” Gallagher said. “One was for fundraising, one was for teams. We also won the North America spirit award. That was so amazing. Out of that they looked at our grassroots way of going about relay, where we’re trying to make it as Woolwich as possible, trying to have the event reflect what our community is like, what they stand for.”
They’re continuing that Woolwich tradition this year by adding a potluck. The registration fee is $25, which includes a potluck dinner, all donated by the planning committee and local businesses, and a luminary to light in honor of someone affected by cancer.
The planning committee has been busy gathering donations from as many Woolwich businesses and restaurants as possible, and they’re still accepting donations, big or small.
“Tracey and I didn’t recognize going into our first relay the bigger picture of relay,” Gallagher said. “One of the most amazing things that has popped out of this, is an event like this brings all of our small towns closer together. The other piece of it is how many things pop up in the communities that weren’t there before because teams are fundraising for Relay for Life.”
Relay teams put their heads together to raise funds through their own events like barbeques, garage sales, and bottle drives. Gallagher notes Woolwich residents have really taken to the event, with many committee members joining despite no ties to Bedford, Gallagher, or Duldhardt.
“We have so many of the really small towns and villages represented,” Gallagher said. “We would like to do a call to Elmira and St. Jacobs. Those are our two biggest, most populous areas and they’re actually the least represented.”
As far as entertainment goes, they’ll have two bands performing and a variety of games. A yearly favourite– running around the track to get a Scrabble tile with the hopes of spelling the best word to win a prize – is back by popular demand.
“We tend to focus a lot of our activities to the track,” Duldhardt said. “We do a lot of games. That’s sort of the grassroots fun as opposed to the stage fun. There’s activities and entertainment on the stage as well.”
A reminder of how important this event is, former SJK teacher Julie Valeriote who was featured in last year’s article as a cancer survivor has relapsed.
“How quickly things change,” Gallagher said. “Julie was a survivor. She figured she had cancer beat. Julie is now off work, battling cancer again. She had skin cancer before. Now she has neck and throat cancer.”
Her relay team was the top fundraising team for the event for the past two years. This time around, they’re focusing all their efforts on supporting her to recovery.
The event is largely volunteer-driven. While many come from the community, the driving force is the SJK student population. They’re open to any students from St. David’s Catholic School and EDSS helping out to get their service hours.
“That saying ‘kids these days,’ I don’t believe in it. Kids these days do amazing things,” Gallagher said.
Duldhardt adds changing the event to the daytime should encourage more families to come out, as it’s been traditionally a family event. There will be everything from haircuts and shaves for cancer to aromatherapy, reflexology, and face painting.
“They say young families are busy, but I think we have so many in our community that have been touched by cancer,” Duldhardt said. “It would be nice to have a call to anybody in the township whose family has been touched to just come out and see what it’s all about.”
Woolwich Relay for Life runs on June 20 at SJK in Breslau from 12 noon to 12 midnight. You can sign up as a team, participant, or donate at www.relayforlife.ca/woolwich.
“You can go the route of asking for money and I think that’s okay,” Gallagher said. “But I think it’s even better when we can bring families and communities together.”