ORONO, Maine — When 14-year-old Jessica Sargent found out her grandmother and father were diagnosed with cancer she had a hard time understanding how to help them. Then she realized Relay for Life could bring her family together.
Sargent, was the honorary co-chair of this year’s Relay for Life of Penobscot County in the “year of the caregiver.” The night opened with the Brewer teen’s address.
“You can’t always believe in miracles, sometimes you have to make them happen. That’s what we’re doing at Relay today,” she said. Sargent was also the top individual fundraiser, collecting $7,081.
Friday night more than 600 participants gathered at the University of Maine’s Morse Field to participate in Relay for Life of Penobscot County, which began 21 years ago. The event’s fundraising totals reached $100,079 Saturday morning, but are expected to grow through the day.
Fundraising is important for the event chair, Karen Girvan, but Relay for Life provides something more, “It’s the camaraderie year to year,” she said. “The fact that we camp out, walk in any weather, laugh, cry and sometimes get angry — which is healthy — we’ve come to know each other really well,” Girvan said.
Sixty-six teams participated in the in 18-hour national event, during which participants raise money from donors who sponsor them to walk throughout the night and into the next morning. Teams camp out along the track with the goal of keeping one team member walking at all times.
Known as the world’s largest grassroots fundraising movement, Relay for Life raises money through the American Cancer Society under the motto “Celebrate, Remember. Fight Back.”
A representative from the New England Division of the American Cancer Society presented two board members of Relay for Life of Penobscot County with the Sandra C. Labree Volunteer Value award — Denise Trafton of Corinth and Chad Labree of Glenburn.
“Every year more survivors are walking around this track,” said Labree of his 11 years as a Relay for Life participant. “The event brings all walks of life together and creates a family atmosphere. You get to know people and their stories. It touches every single person out there,” he said.
Each team and participant sets a fundraising goal. Girvan’s team, Curious for a Cure, was the top fundraising team, gathering $10,360. For Girvan it’s important some of the funds raised stay local.
“That balance of world-class research helping out locally with people fighting cancer makes Relay for Life unique,” she said.
In 2012, Relay for Life of Penobscot County was named one of the top 25 Relay for Life groups in New England placing it 18 out of 230 groups for fundraising.
Most fundraising is done before the event but some teams raise money from their tents with creative fundraisers such as selling crafts or baked goods.
Highlights of all Relay for Life events include the survivors’ lap, the Luminaria Ceremony and the Fight Back Ceremony.
On May 16 the Penobscot Valley event began with survivors taking the initial lap around the track at 6 p.m. while being cheered on by all event participants.
Each survivor’s shirt read “I am hope.” The banner leading the lap displayed a simple message: “Survivors — Celebrating Life.”
At nightfall, participants line the track with candles for the Luminaria Ceremony. Each candle sits in a paper bag decorated in memory of a loved one who was lost to cancer. During this time participants can pay reverence to those who lost their battle with cancer or for those still fighting.
It’s a chance for survivors, those still fighting cancer, participants and caregivers to come together.
“I know I can be a great caregiver because I have love, support and hope,” said Sargent.
For more information on Relay for Life, or to donate, visit relayforlife.org/penobscotme.