When the American Cancer Society (ACS) promotes Relay For Life, they will be using Rockford to do it. Videographers and photographers from the national organization were on hand this past Friday and Saturday, May 15 and 16. The images they captured will appear in brochures, commercials and other promotional material.
“They realized we have something special here,” said organizer Carol Delp-Korzeja. Carol said the story of Rockford’s Relay, this year the seventh, is inspirational.
It is also nothing short of amazing that Relay ’09 brought in $336,992, bringing the seven-year total to $2.1 million. There were over 300 cancer survivors (up from 263 last year) at the survivor reception and 84 teams participated (up from 77 last year). The top money-raising team was Friends For Life, which raised $24,000.
There is a story behind every person who chooses to participate in Relay For Life. This year five City of Rockford employees, including the City Manager Michael Young, walked the whole 24 hours to show support for police officer Ian Graham, diagnosed with lymphoma this spring.
Carol shared another story that should give goose bumps to even the most hard-hearted. Rockford’s Relay was started by good friends Shannon Oulette and Brent Deuel. Shannon had lost her mom, Paula Banfield, to cancer. Shannon’s brother, Jason Banfield, recently lost his mother-in-law to cancer. Jason’s son, Carson Banfield, having lost two grandmothers to cancer before the age of 9, decided to raise money this year by writing letters to everyone he knows, asking for donations for ACS. His efforts alone netted over $1,600.
“This is a third-generation Relayer,” said Carol. Carson received a Relay Champion award this year for his efforts. “Our kids are becoming our next generation of Relayers. We bring them and they see what it’s all about.”
Rockford Relay has enjoyed the strong support of both the Rockford School District and the City. On the committee from day one were both Young and Rockford Superintendent Dr. Michael Shibler. Rockford has teams from every school in the district and has always had a City team. This year there were 84 teams participating, up from 77 last year, and the event remembered and honored more than 2,700 people.
“Many Relays are having a hard time this year because of the economy. We’ve been very blessed,” said Carol. She said some participants were people who have lost their jobs since last year’s Relay but still support the event.
Rockford was chosen to be one of the relays offering a chance to sign up as part of a life-long lifestyle cancer study. This once-in-a lifetime opportunity may help unlock the cure to cancer or someday prevent it.
The ACS estimated that Rockford might be able to get 450 people to enroll in the study in five hours. Relay committee members had asked for extra sign-up kits because they were confident many would volunteer. The sign-up team had to stop of the process early, since the ACS ran out of enrollment packages at 472-more than 90 people per hour.
A spokesperson for the American Cancer Society praised the community and school district for the incredible support of Relay For Life.
“Two thirds of all cancers are preventable,” she said. “It would be great to find a cure for cancer, but can you imagine being able to stop cancer before anyone gets it? We see so many young people getting cancer. This study is our gift to the generations that come after us.”Young said he remembers the day Oulette came to him asking if Rockford would help host a Relay For Life. “We said, ‘Whatever you need, we’ll make sure it gets done. We don’t just allow Relay to be something that happens in our City, we embrace it.”