New director aims to reconnect Relay For Life with community
The American Cancer Society’s new relay specialist for the area, Samantha Chamblee, of Shelbyville, says she hopes to bring a connection back to the community for the upcoming Relay For Life in April.
“Relay For Life is a community event, and it’s unique to each community. That’s what I want to bring back to this even,” Chamblee said. “I need people from the community to make that happen. I could put on an event but with out the community, it’s not going to be personal.”
She said that in past Coffee County teams have made the Relay unique with touches like making cars from boxes for a car show.
“That’s something that’s unique to this community. They also hold a dove release.
“Those are unique here. I want to make sure that the things like that people want to do, they’re able to do them.”
The Relay, Chamblee says, is much more than a just a charity fundraiser.
“There is the fundraising aspect of it, which has to be done in order to help people…but the part of it being a community – and I’m speaking from experience losing someone to cancer – is about everyone being there for someone,” Chamblee said.
“The survivors have all fought the battle and they know what it’s like so they are like a support group in a way.
“There’s nothing like being able to talk to someone that’s been through the same thing.”
Chamblee said she calls her volunteers family because of the support they have given with her grieving following the loss of her mother.
“I really call it my Relay family because that’s what it is. Having other people who have gone through the same thing – having that support, being able to help back and knowing that what I’m doing may save someone else’s mom [makes] that sense of coming together and being together.”
While this is Chamblee’s first time organizing a Relay for the American Cancer Society, it only comes after years of volunteering for her hometown Relay in Shelbyville.
“This is my ninth year. I worked it over and built it up. I am lucky enough to do now as a job.”
Chamblee is excited to about the Manchester Relay.
“We’ve got great volunteers here, who are in it for the right reasons and they are still doing it. They have to own it.”
“I’m only here to support them. They know this community better than I ever will.”
From dusk to dawn:
A breakdown of the night’s events
Chamblee said that following the introduction the Relay starts with a survivor lap, followed by a caregiver lap.
“My mom passed, but I join in that lap because even though she’s not here with me, I was a caregiver.”
She said overall the event corresponds to the stages each cancer patient faces.
“It’s an overnight event. When the sun sets, that’s like hearing ‘you’ve got cancer.’ Then as you go through the different stages, and you are fighting to stay awake around the track, that portrays the cancer patient’s fight,” Chamblee said.
“At 9 o’clock, we have the luminaria ceremony. We take it down a little bit. We turn all the lights off and we light the luminarias bags that have been bought in honor or in memory of anyone that has had cancer.”
There is then a ceremony to remember those lost to cancer.
The remainder of the night is full of games and fun.
Daybreak the next morning, symbolizes the start of a new day – a new beginning when you hear you are in remission.
Throughout the night team members take turns walking around the track.
The Relay wants you – more teams, volunteers needed
Chamblee said that in the time before the Relay she will mostly trying to get more teams.
“It’s never too late to sign up. We fundraise year round. All the money that’s raised this year is not turned in until August. Teams and volunteer throughout the months afterwards,” she said.
The Relay is made up of two groups, volunteers and teams.
Volunteers, the leadership of the event, come together to form a board to plan and organize. Each of the leaders takes control of a small portion of the larger event, like traffic control or making sure the survivors are cared for.
The teams are the heart of the event. Chamblee explained that teams are formed from churches, families and business. They fundraise throughout the year.
Teams setup what Chamblee likes to call campsites around the track. These pop-up tents are for a bit of fundraising. They often have food or games available for the community guests.
Teams are fundraising now for the event selling track signs, shirts and doing bake sales.
Each team is made up of from 10-15 people. Teams are encouraged to raise at least $100 and, during the Relay, have at least one member walking on the track all the time.
The Relay is the American Cancer Society’s signature fundraising event.
According to the ACS website, Cancer.org, the 501(c)(3) charity is the largest voluntary heath organization in the world. It’s corporate headquarters is in Atlanta, and claims to have helped nearly 14 million cancer survivors and countless others to avoid cancer.
ACS statistics indicate that each day, 97 Tennesseans will be told they have cancer, 183 rides will be given to state cancer patients, 81 patients will receive free lodging while in treatment in Memphis and Nashville.
The organization also funds research, provides health information and lobbies for laws that might reduce the exposure of the population to carcinogens. In Tennessee the ACS funds over $25,104 in research. It has donated over $4 billon overall to research since 1946.
The Manchester Relay For Life will be held 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., April 25, at the Coffee County Fairgrounds.
For more information, contact Samantha Chamblee at (931) 680-1622.