BANGOR, Maine — Some big changes are in store for this year’s local Relay For Life event, set for May 20 and 21.
For the first time, there’s an overall theme, which this year is “Birthdays.” Another is that the event’s name was changed to Relay For Life of Penobscot, which reflects the wide area its participants are drawn from.
Another change involves the ambitious fundraising target, which has been increased to $190,000 for 2011, according to Chad Labree, who is co-chairing the event with Denise Traffton.
Labree said that the 82 teams that took part in last year’s relay event in Old Town raised more than $170,000 — the most netted by any of the 24 Relay For Life events held in Maine in 2010.
Perhaps the biggest change, however, is the event’s move from the track at Old Town High School, where it has been held for more than a dozen years, to the University of Maine’s track, event organizers noted Tuesday night during a kickoff event at the Bangor Banquet and Conference Center.
Labree said the move to the Orono campus was prompted by the event’s growth. Because the UMaine track is paved, people who use wheelchairs or crutches now can participate in the two-day relay, which is part of a nationwide effort to raise money for the American Cancer Society.
Though the new location, parts of which are paved or covered with synthetic turf, likely will mean no more individual campfires and changes in the way tents and shelters are set up, it also will mean no more walking in the mud, participants from past relays noted.
Tuesday’s launch event drew more than 100 people, most of whom have organized Relay For Life teams in the past.
Among them were Cheryl Dearing and Pam Frye, who have been organizing adult and youth teams for First Baptist Church of Bangor for the past eight years.
Frye said that members of the church, located on Center Street, typically raise a couple thousand dollars during each year’s relay.
“We decided to [participate in the fundraiser] because so many people in our church were affected by cancer,” she said.
Also during the event, organizers introduced this year’s honorary chairwoman, Christina Parrish of Hampden.
Parrish, who is living with pancreatic cancer, said Tuesday that she will be participating in the fundraiser for the first time and that she is humbled and honored to have been chosen.
Parrish noted that she could not have coped with cancer without the help and support of her family, co-workers, friends and others.
“And now that I’m feeling better, it’s time to give back,” she said.
Calling itself the world’s largest grass-roots fundraising movement, Relay For Life mobilizes communities throughout the nation to celebrate people who have battled cancer, remember loved ones lost to the disease and provide participants an opportunity to fight back.
Money raised through Relay For Life of Penobscot is used for local programs for cancer research, education, advocacy and patient services, including transportation for cancer patients and one-on-one support for women with breast cancer.