Rockford schools rally around Relay—Part I


Fourth-graders in Luanne Helsen’s class at Valley View Elementary School are supporting their classmate Claire Kowroski, who has cancer. The students wore t-shirts at the school’s mini-relay event that was raising money for Rockford’s Relay for Life. Many of the students and staff who are supportive of Claire are planning to wear the t-shirts at Rockford’s Relay event as well. Students walked and ran for 24 minutes, which represents one minute per each hour of Rockford’s Relay for Life, to raise money. More than $6,000 was raised with the majority coming from pledges for the mini-relay. Photo by CINDY M. CRANMER

This article is a summary of what each school in Rockford Public Schools has come up with to contribute to the Rockford Relay for Life. Encouraging each school to organize their own fundraiser has been a goal of Relay organizers from year one. This Friday through Saturday, May 18-19, from 3 p.m. to 3 p.m. is the town’s 10th Relay for Life event.

Rockford plans to celebrate a decade of having a Relay for Life event to raise money to fight cancer this weekend, and a key segment involved is the Rockford school district.

According to Shannon Ouellette—who served as committee chair for the first nine years and currently is on the committee as well as the City of Rockford and Rockford Public Schools (RPS) liaison—the school district raises between $60,000 and $80,000 of the total raised yearly.

The goal of the Relay for Life this year is to again raise between $340,000 and $360,000.

Second-grader Kyle Weston and third-grader Callen Doyle are the winners of Nooks at Valley View Elementary School for being the top two students raising money at a mini-relay event for Rockford’s Relay for Life. Kyle raised $500 and Callen raised $510 in pledges. Both students are still hoping to raise more money before this weekend’s Relay for Life event. Photo by CINDY M. CRANMER

“Our financial goal in these economic times is to stay consistent with monies raised the past few years,” Ouellette said. “Most relays will peak at year five or so and then show a decline. We have been able to maintain consistently in the mid threes, so we are happy with that.”

“In the past nine years we have raised nearly 2.9 million so we will top the three million mark this year,” she added.

Ouellette was on the committee for a few years for the Ada Park Relay for Life before helping to start the Relay for Life in Rockford in 2002.

“Participation from schools range from administration, bus garage, sports teams, clubs and every year almost every school is represented with a team from elementary through high school,” Ouellette said. “Our school teams are key to our success for sure.”

Besides being involved while in school, many Rockford graduates then go on to participate at Relay for Life events on their college campuses.

Bringing in new members to the Relay for Life is important to the future, Ouellette said. “The youth have been such a strong and positive aspect of our event. They volunteer at the event, such as help with parking and entertainment, as well as be a part of teams.”

Ouellette said RPS has been involved with the Relay for Life since its inception 10 years ago with the Valley View Elementary team being a part of another Relay before Rockford’s Relay began.

The goals of the Relay for Life are awareness by bringing people to the event and survivors walking the Survivor Lap on the Saturday of the event, which is May 19 this year. The second part is to raise money for the American Cancer Society to find a cure for cancer and to run valuable cancer programs.

“We have spent 10 years in this community that has supported this event from year one. We couldn’t do it without the people,” Ouellette said.

She encouraged area residents to come to the 10th Rockford Relay for Life beginning at 3 p.m. on Friday, May 18 at North Rockford Middle School (NRMS) and going through Saturday afternoon, May 19. The Luminaria is scheduled for 9 p.m. Friday and the Survivors Lap for Saturday.

Dr. Michael Shibler, superintendent of RPS, is impressed with how the schools have supported the Relay for Life but also how the community believes in it.

“More money is raised at Rockford’s Relay for Life than anywhere in the Midwest at times,” Shibler said. “It’s been a successful endeavor. It demonstrates the giving nature of the people who live in this part of the state and those who have been actively involved in organizing this event. Their efforts have paid off. The community has stepped up to support this event for a decade.”

Shibler said throughout RPS not only do the individual schools participate with student and educator teams but the board of education has a team with the City of Rockford as well as the food services staff, the maintenance staff and the transportation departments also organize teams.

Shibler said numerous students also are involved in helping set up for the event at NRMS. “It’s a real collaboration between the schools, the private sector, the public sector and the community at large. This collaboration of everyone working together makes it an extreme success,” he said. “It’s a total community effort.”

Shibler said NRMS was chosen as the location so that the location would be in the city limits to involve the city workers, police and staff in assisting with the event. Parking and the fact that there would not be sport conflicts with the track also were two other reasons that NRMS was chosen.

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