Saturday, June 8, 2013

Volunteer for Cancer Awareness: It's Relay for Life Season

In my Career Advisor job at Palo Alto High School I frequently connect our students to volunteer opportunities to help them pursue their interests and passions and to make purposeful post-high school plans. The parent volunteers at the school have assisted me for the past five in creating a database of our students’ community outreach and engagement experiences. Many times, our students attend Relay for Life with American Cancer Society, and finally I was able to attend one of these events myself. The event raises millions of dollars each year around the country for the organization to do research on prevention and treatment of all types of cancer.

The nice thing about Relay for Life (RFL) is that it is community based, with an event in nearly every community in the Bay Area and surrounding communities. Businesses, schools, church congregations and other groups are encouraged to participate in fundraising before the event by gathering pledges for their laps walked around the venue. The organization describes the fundraiser this way on their website,

Relay For Life is the American Cancer Society’s signature activity. It offers everyone in a community an opportunity to participate in the fight against cancer. Teams of people fundraise and camp out at a local high school, park, or fairground and take turns walking or running around a track or path. Each team is asked to have a team member on the track at all times during the event. Relays are 24 hours in length; representing the reality that cancer never sleeps.

During the evening at the event, volunteers place luminarias around the event in memory of cancer survivors or those who have passed away. My family members each decorated a luminaria in honor of someone who we know that has personally been affected by cancer. Unfortunately, we had many to honor. I made my luminaria to recognize my sister’s battle with breast cancer ten years ago. Luckily, she survived, but other members of our extended family had not survived and we honored them as well.

This event is very well organized and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to make a difference in the local and national community. The local chapters are a place where people can get involved with leadership opportunities. Students can even work behind the scenes in a leadership capacity throughout the year. The one suggestion I would make for people who want to volunteer is to sponsor a booth at the event and really make it fun for other attendees. If you go and just walk around the track, it’s okay but not as meaningful as it could be. There were many local organizations at the RFl I attended where they were hosting games and raffling off prizes to make the walk more interesting. At the very least, anyone attending should make a luminaria to honor a cancer survivor or victim. I don’t know a single soul who cannot think of someone in their life who has been affected by cancer. In this day and age, we can all make a difference in the fight to prevent and cure for this scary and often deadly disease.

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