Hope. Courage. Cure. These three words spurred nearly 600 teenagers to raise almost $100,000 this past weekend at Huntington High School’s annual Relay For Life fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.
Seniors Grace Curran and Christiana Reinertsen and junior Jamie Spector served as the general event chairs. The three teenagers collaborated with dozens of fellow students who played integral roles on the organizing committee with each assuming responsibility for a specific aspect of the sprawling event.
Since Huntington’s first Relay For Life in June 2012, the school community has raised more than $800,000 for the American Cancer Society.
The three student event chairs devoted hundreds of hours to their positions. “We kept everything pretty controlled,” Ms. Curran said. “It definitely kept us busy, but in the best possible way.”
Seniors Billy Garfinkel and Jordan Biener
presented carnations to survivors.
Local business contributed a long list of items that filled baskets and were raffled off to help raise more money for the cause. Many of the 60 student teams participating in the event sold goods from their tents to also pad the final fundraising figure.
Huntington High School National Honor Society faculty advisors Joseph Cohen and Tara Fisher and Morgan Wright, the American Cancer Society’s staff partner assigned to Huntington’s Relay For Life, provided students with encouragement, support and guidance along the way.
“I can’t believe this was already my fifth year having the privilege of witnessing our school’s Relay For Life,” said Principal Brenden Cusack, who was on the scene along with his wife and two sons. “Once again I was amazed at how the event serves to bring our community together in such a beautiful and meaningful way. As the sun came up on our grounds at the conclusion and everyone stirred back to life, it reminded me of what Huntington is all about: heart, compassion, dedication, a sense of purpose and hope. I love this event and I am so grateful to Mr. Cohen and all of the students who have made it possible year after year. It takes a tremendous amount of effort and planning to make this happen, and I am so thankful for their efforts.”
Huntington Superintendent James W. Polansky and many Huntington School Board members were also among those turning out for the huge event, which drew students from every grade in the district.
A crowd approaching 1,000 attended the opening ceremony in Blue Devil Stadium, sitting silently on the field as cancer survivors, health care professionals, students and public officials testified to just how terrible a disease cancer really is, but that the battle is slowly being won.
Once the ceremony concluded, cancer survivors assembled on the track to walk the first lap of the event. Watching folks of all ages make their way around the oval, some supported by their caregivers, was a heart-wrenching experience for other participants and spectators, who surrounded the track and cheered in a show of support. A Blue Devil marching band color guard led the procession.
Reviewing the touchingly inscribed luminaria bags that ringed the track was another experience that could easily cause a person to cry. The bags chronicled in sometimes stark terms the personal reasons why participants were “relaying,” often citing family and friends brought down by cancer along with expressions of unconditional love and admiration. Many wrote the names of parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters and other relatives and close friends.
As darkness gripped the athletic fields where dozens of tents had been erected, the luminaria were lighted, creating an almost eerie atmosphere. A sense of calm pervaded the area as night took hold in earnest.
Daybreak on Sunday saw hundreds of participants who had stayed through the night, quietly circling the track once again. It was another scene among many that choked up more than a few people.
The enthusiastic organizing committee met weekly for months to plan the event down to the smallest detail. Mr. Cohen and Ms. Fisher provided the teenagers with guidance, but otherwise let them take the lead and insisted they get the credit for the event’s success.
As of Sunday afternoon, the top 15 individual fundraisers included Sean Flick ($3,270), Steli Vlahos ($2,585), Kim Schaefer ($2,172), Sophia Severine ($1,770), Craig Haas ($1,200), Christiana Reinertsen ($1,095), Jamie Spector ($1,071), Victoria Garbarino ($810), Faith Youngquist ($700), Isabella McGinniss ($698), Ryanmarie McKean ($670), Zach McGinniss ($668), Sarah Grassi ($645), Amy Bernzweig ($610) and Stefan Breskin ($610).
The top 10 teams included Purple Matters ($8,760; 32 members; Captain Lena Annunziata), Candy for a Cure ($5,006; 16 members; Captain Maddy Kye), Huntington Highsteppers ($4,631; 17 members; Captain Christiana Reinertsen), Ride the Ribbon ($3,975; 10 members; Captain Catherine Jamison), Baby Got Track ($3,600; 16 members; Captain Gigi DeVoe), Cancer Conquerors ($3,487; 16 members; Captain Maddy Meidenman), All Night for the Fight ($3,473; 24 members; Captain Lindsay Saginaw), bELIeve in a Cure ($3,093; 16 members; Captain Jenna Yabroudy), A New Hope ($3,043; 16 members; Captain Zach McGinniss) and Starry Fight ($2,519; 13 members; Captain Molly Kessler).
Each participating team was required to have at least one member on the track walking at all times because “cancer never sleeps.” Some participants covered many miles over the course of the night. When they weren’t walking, students and their adult chaperones were socializing, playing lawn or other types of games, reading, eating or enjoying round-the-clock entertainment.
When the sun went down, portable lights powered by diesel generators illuminated the athletic fields and the Blue Devil Stadium complex. Participants played games on the synthetic turf field while hundreds quietly circled the track through the overnight hours.
Mr. Cohen said “it would have been impossible to make this happen without the support and cooperation of the administration, school board, buildings and grounds department, security, staff, students and community.”
When this year’s event concluded early Sunday morning, those who had remained during the overnight hours appeared physically and emotionally drained, but as they slowly walked off to waiting vehicles that whisked them home, they felt the satisfaction of knowing they had made a difference in the battle against cancer and together with others across the country brought the world one day closer to defeating the disease once and for all.