Relay for Life at U.Va. raises nearly $180,000

Community comes together to support American Cancer Society

This past Saturday and Sunday, the University hosted the American Cancer Society Relay for Life event and featured 116 teams, comprised of 1,346 participants, who raised $179,333.16 supporting the fight against cancer.

The event included performances from various talented University groups, including the Tai Kwon Do club. At 10 p.m. a powerful candlelight ceremony — Luminaria — kicked off the night celebrating the lives of those lost to cancer.

“The Luminaria ceremony is probably the most beautiful part of the night because it really grounds you in why you’re about to stay up until 6 a.m. and why you’ve worked your butt off all year,” Keelin Sweeney, event chair and fourth-year College student, said.

In the Luminaria ceremony, paper bags containing candles are decorated with photos and messages in memory of a person who has been affected by cancer. The paper bags are then illuminated after dark in remembrance of an individual.

“I did Relay when I was in High School a lot because nearly every generation of my family has been affected by cancer, so it was something close to my heart,” second-year College student Emily Caron said. “When I got to the University, I saw that Relay was such a big deal, [which] got me really excited about it.”

Caron now serves on the executive team as a part of the corporate committee. This committee reaches out to potential sponsors in the Charlottesville community, including the Inter-Sorority Council, the Inter-Fraternity Council and Star Hill Brewery.

“We have been working with local businesses in Charlottesville and the surrounding area to get donation items to get raffled off, sponsorships, partnerships — certain things like that,” Caron said.

The event was held outside this year, unlike in years past when there have been weather restrictions.

“To know that we’ve been working literally 12 months and a week now to make this come together and be the best that it can be and we’re outside, which is one of our main goals for this year,” Sweeney said. “We’ve had three indoor Relays since we’ve been here, and this will be our first and only outdoor one that we will see.”

Additionally, the Relay for Life committees added an online platform for donations in the hopes of raising more money than in years past.

“This year the event will actually be different, because a lot of our auction is an online auction so that it can reach others,” Caron said. “Usually it’s just an auction at the event, but now you can reach out to your relay networks — family, friends and people who aren’t actually at the event. They will be able to bet on items and win prizes and further fundraise.”

The event is run by an executive committee, which consists of 24 University students and various subcommittees. The committee members begin planning and fundraising for the main Relay for Life event the summer before.

“We have 22 people working under us that organize a committee of over 130 people, so they are the ones who organize all the events and do all the publicity and our job is just trying to balance everyone’s interests,” Drew Souders, executive chair and fourth-year Commerce student, said.

Both Souders and Sweeney have been personally affected by cancer. Souders said he got involved with Relay for Life about two years after his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“As soon as I came to the University, Relay for Life was the first sign I looked for at the Career Fair,” Souders said.

Similarly, Sweeney joined her first year after her mother was diagnosed with cancer.

“When I came to the University, I wasn’t sure what to get involved with, and Relay wasn’t really on my radar until November of my first year when my mom got diagnosed with stage-four ovarian cancer,” Sweeney said. “I dove into Relay and never looked back.”

The two event chairs work to plan and organize the entirety of the event and oversee the action of the various subcommittees.

“One of the things I really love about this job is to make sure that everything else is running smoothly — so when we see the event come together, that’s the best feeling in the world,” Sweeney said.

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