(Photo by Richard Irby)
A new day and new hours of operation will be one of the changes to be announced at a Relay Kickoff event scheduled for Monday, Feb. 4 at 5:30 p.m. at the Orange Room at North Arkansas Electric.
"For the last three years, some Relay for Life groups in southern Missouri have held their events on a Saturday from noon to midnight, instead of the 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. time that has traditionally been used," American Cancer Society Community Representative Whitney Rodgers explained. "Fulton County has gotten permission to be the first Relay group in Arkansas to try the new schedule."
In 2001, Fulton County residents held one of the first Relay for Life events in northern Arkansas, so they will be celebrating their 13th Relay on Saturday, June 8.
Relay for Life brings cancer survivors and family members of cancer victims together to raise money for cancer research and to assist patients who are in treatment. The event is also a time to rejoice with those who have won their battle against cancer, and to remember those who have been taken by the disease.
While Fulton County Relay for Life is made up of many dedicated residents who work to make the event a success each year, some long-time participants have expressed concern that community interest has waned in recent years. They have expressed the need for new volunteers and changes to revive interest in the event.
Rodgers, who helps organize six Relays in north central Arkansas counties, believes the new Fulton County schedule, which ends the overnight vigil which has always been a part of Relay, will help.
"In the three years or so that Missouri counties have had relays from noon to midnight, they have had a lot of success in getting people out to support their events," Rodgers said.
Linda Gregg, who has been involved in all 13 Fulton County Relays, said the all- night Relays of the past have been a way for people to show their commitment to the fight against cancer, and some are likely to have mixed emotions about the change. She agrees, however, something needs to be done to attract new participants.
Last year, only about 35 hearty individuals stayed throughout the night to be present for the 6 a.m. Relay end.
"I think that the noon to midnight time for the Relay might draw more people in," Gregg said. "I hope people who have talked about the need for changes will be sure to come out and support Relay this year. Since we are the only Relay in Arkansas doing the noon to midnight schedule, a lot of counties in the state will be watching to see how we do, and whether the change in hours will result in more participants."
Gregg said Relay supporters also need to help the organization get off to a good start by attending the Feb. 4 kickoff event.
"We hold the kickoff to try to get old teams back together, and spread the world about what Relay is and why it is important to so many people who have been touched by cancer," Gregg said.
Gregg said the Relay Kickoff is a party with lots of food, fun and prizes. There will be drawings during the event to give away gifts donated by supporters, and people can buy Luminaria candles to remember survivors and victims. They will be lit as participants sing a song during a short service.
In 2010, Fulton County Relay for Life raised about $30,000. Last year, about $18,000 was raised.
Despite the challenges it faces, Gregg is confident that Relay for Life will remain an important event in Fulton County.
"I got involved in Relay in 2000 because my mother, who had been diagnosed with cancer in 1999, wanted to participate in the Relay in Searcy County, where she lived," Gregg said. "She passed before the Relay, but I participated, and got involved here when Fulton County's Relay started the following year."
Gregg added that she knows people are busy, but, because it affects so many, cancer is a problem most people can't avoid. "It seems about every week I hear about new people and families dealing with cancer. People at work or church or friends who have cancer. When it comes to Relay, I say, 'how can I not do this?'" Gregg said.
The American Cancer Society's Whitney Rodgers is optimistic about Relay 2013.
"Our committee is very excited," Rodgers said. "The kickoff event will be a good time to explain the changes in hours of operation, share fundraising ideas and discuss the need for new teams, volunteers and sponsors."