By John Walsh
Those who participate in, and benefit from, John Carroll’s annual Relay For Life fundraiser can thank Joel Mullner ’07, ’09G, who worked with other students and staff to start the event in the spring of 2007.
In its first four years on campus, the benefit has netted more than $200,000 for the American Cancer Society. In its first year, the event was even named the top rookie relay in the state and the top collegiate relay in the U.S. per capita for schools with a similar enrollment (a student body between 2,500 and 5,000). While the benefit has remained successful, it has had to weather turbulent economic times and decreases in the amount of donations.
Nationally, all community Relay For Life events raised $388 million in 2010, according to the American Cancer Society. More specifically, 493 college campuses raised more than $22 million last year. This year in Ohio, Relay For Life teams are expected to raise $17.2 million.
The event, which typically lasts 24 hours in many communities, adopted an 18-hour model common for collegiate relays, says Mullner, the assistant director of enrollment at Carroll. Because of safety concerns with the University and University Heights, part of the event was held outside and part was held inside during the first three years. Since then, the event has been approved to remain outside for its entirety.
Each year, the benefit is held at the end of April. This year’s event got under way at 1 p.m. April 30 and concluded at 7 a.m. May 1. There were 47 participating teams consisting of 590 people who raised almost $40,000.
Christopher Haering ’11 chaired the student-run benefit this year, and graduate assistant Angie Weimer advised. In addition to a chair and advisor, a 13-student committee plans and manages the event, including all aspects of fundraising, logistics, recruitment, entertainment, and public relations.
Additionally, the American Cancer Society provides training – it assigns a staffer to each relay – for the students because it wants to make sure the Relay For Life brand remains consistent. The official title for the event is the American Cancer Society Relay For Life of John Carroll University.
Each year, the fundraiser adopts a theme. This year’s was a fifth birthday party. In the past, themes were about superheroes, the jungle, and Hollywood.
“We encourage teams to embrace the theme because it adds to the fun of the event,” Mullner says.
Each team, consisting of about 15 people, has a fundraiser that day. For example, one year, the hockey team set up a game to score on its goalie. Those who did won a prize.
The atmosphere is festive with ongoing music and fun, random activities such as musical chairs and pogo-stick competitions.
“The whole campus community is involved,” Mullner says. “Families come out, neighbors come. There’s a good mix of upper and underclassmen, usually students who’ve been touched by cancer or have connections with someone who has.”
The Relay For Life slogan “Celebrate. Remember. Fight Back.” ties to the three ceremonies that take place during the benefit.
The opening ceremony doubles as a time to celebrate cancer survivors, who are recognized as they take their first lap around the Hamlin Quad. All participants line the “track” and clap for them.
“It’s very emotional,” Mullner says.
After the ceremony, there’s a luncheon for the survivors and their families.
The night of the benefit students line the Hamlin Quad with luminaries, for which people donate $10 per luminary in memory of those who died or in honor of those who survived cancer.
The luminaria ceremony, which serves as the cornerstone of the event, focuses on remembering those who’ve passed away. The ceremony also includes a few speakers, such as those in the Carroll community who lost parents or other relatives, or are survivors themselves. The names of those honored or remembered for their battle with cancer are part of a slideshow presented on a big screen. It takes about 20 minutes to show 1,000 to 1,200 names. The ceremony concludes with a silent lap around the luminaries to reflect and focus on those who’ve passed away.
Lastly, during a formal ceremony at the end of the event, participants are thanked for their efforts fighting the disease, and the different teams involved are recognized for such things as the best game, who raised the most money, and the most creatively themed outfit.
“We encourage and challenge participants to commit to fundraising all through the year,” Mullner says. JCU
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