A celebration of life
AFTER DARK SATURDAY, hundreds of luminaria will line the track at Relay for Life.
Few fundraisers have reached the same level of success as Relay For Life, the flagship event of the American Cancer Society. Since it began in 1985, the event, which takes place in more than 5,000 communities across the United States, has raised $3.86 billion - money that is used to fund research to find a cure and offer support programs to make cancer easier to cope with.
Last year, Sonoma's Relay For Life hit a milestone by crossing the $2 million mark, the total raised since the event began in the Valley. The volunteer event organizers are hoping to see that figure continue to rise this weekend when the 24-hour fundraising extravaganza returns to the Sonoma Valley High School track, kicking off at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 6, with the opening ceremonies followed by the popular Survivors Lap.
"During the Survivors Lap, we celebrate the survivor's accomplishments in whatever stage of the disease they're at," said event Chair Jill Whitham, who explained that each registered cancer survivor will get a purple shirt to wear during the walk. "It is only for the survivors, who create a sea of purple shirts across the track."
Immediately following that lap, caregivers are invited to join their survivor to celebrate their contributions in the fight against cancer. During the events, groups of friends, families or co-workers form teams and commit to keeping at least one member walking the track for a full 24 hours. "Cancer never sleeps, and neither do we," Whitham said.
Teams camp out at the high school, and many offer fundraising activities on site such as a bounce house; beads for cancer, where walkers get to pick a bead for every lap they make; and track poker, where walkers get a card for each lap to try and make the best poker hand while playing against the house.
In addition, the day includes a full music festival, dubbed Relaypallooza, featuring all local bands. It all kicks off at 10:30 a.m. when the high school's dance team, Carisma Crew, takes the stage. At 11 a.m., EZ Kewl can be heard followed by the Maldonado Brothers at noon. The sounds of the Cork Pullers ring out at 1 p.m. before the Joe Chaplain Band takes the stage at 2 p.m. The music gets a retro twist at 3 p.m. when Elvis and the Flashbacks heat up.
Glenn Carter offers a short set at 4 p.m. followed by recent SVHS graduate Danny Wirick at 4:30 p.m. The Jon Popenoe Blues Band will perform at 5 p.m. followed by the Latin sounds of Noche Tropical at 6 p.m. Finally, at 7 p.m., anyone can sing during Kit Cat Karaoke.
New this year, Relay For Life boasts a "Miss Relay Pageant." During this 30-minute mini-fundraiser, participants take on the persona of a female cancer patient and walk the track asking for donations, with men encouraged to dress up in drag. At the end of the half-hour, the person with the most cash will take home the crown.
"It's been a fundraiser at (Relay) events all over the country," Whitham said. "It's usually quite successful. Many Relays make $1,000 or more in that half-hour."
When the twilight grows dark, luminaria bags will encircle the track with the gentle glow of candlelight. Each bag bears the name of either a cancer survivor or someone lost to the disease. Anyone is invited to decorate luminaria bags for their loved ones, but bags must be turned in at the high school by 2 p.m. on Saturday. The Luminaria Ceremony takes place at 9 p.m. after which walkers will head back to the track.
The night closes out with a screening of the Disney/Pixar film "Cars." Mary's Pizza Shack will keep walkers satiated with a late-night pizza party. Sonoma Market also provides healthy snacks throughout the day, while Java Wagon will keep the caffeine flowing. The event wraps up at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday with the closing ceremonies, where the total amount raised will be announced.
"There is not an entrance fee to come to Relay and everyone is welcome," Whitham said. "Everyone who raises $100 or more will get an event T-shirt."
While there is no cost to attend, for liability purposes, everyone on the track will have to register. Registration can be done ahead of time by clicking "Sign Up" at RelayForLife.org/SonomaCa, or at the event by Friday, Aug. 5. New teams can still join the fun by registering at the website as well.
"During Relay For Life, we come together to celebrate the survivors, remember those lost to this terrible disease and fight back to find a cure," Whitham said.