Getting ready for Relay

With new format, planners get head start on June event

“Fight Like a Girl” T-shirts are unpacked and ready for sale as 2011 Relay For Life chairperson Debby Curtis, right, and Cate-Russell team captain Kim Hill, left, get ready for this year’s 18-hour event.

Photo by Jolanda Jansma

“Fight Like a Girl” T-shirts are unpacked and ready for sale as 2011 Relay For Life chairperson Debby Curtis, right, and Cate-Russell team captain Kim Hill, left, get ready for this year’s 18-hour event.

Last year, Relay For Life went to a 24-hour format for the popular fundraising event that draws thousands of walkers, survivors and community participants to the June event.

The move wasn’t so popular.

So for the 2011 Relay For Life, organizer are meeting in the middle. This year’s event will expand the former 12 hours into an 18-hour event on June 3-4 on the campus at Maryville College.

Each year when Relay For Life teams converge on Maryville College campus, the event takes on a festive atmosphere as individuals celebrate the survivors who have battled cancer, remember those who lost their lives to the disease and recommit to raising funds and awareness to find a cure.

It is not uncommon to see teams selling everything from barbecue to “Walking Tacos” as they raise money. Team members take turns walking around the oval in a community-wide effort to raise funds for cancer research.

It is because of this widespread support that the American Cancer Society asked the Blount County Relay For Life committee to switch from a 12-hour model to a 24-hour model, the 2011 Relay For Life chairperson Debby Curtis said.

“We were encouraged to do that by the Cancer Society because Blount County is one of the largest Relay events in Tennessee. We are larger than Knox County, so, based on our number of attendees and the amount of money we’ve raised in the past, we were encouraged to follow a format for a 24-hour event,” she said.

Curtis said 24-hour events are generally done in large, metropolitan areas like Atlanta. “What we found was that Blount County teams are not as large as those metropolitan area teams,” she said.

The chair said that with the larger metropolitan area teams, it is not uncommon for them to have 50 to 75 members and this enables them to schedule people to be there for 24 hours. “The majority of Blount County teams have six to eight people and so to go to a 24-hour schedule really taxes their ability to support the schedule,” she said. “It is not something we’re ruling out for the future, but for this year, we decided to go to an 18-hour format. It is a little more than what we did two years ago, but less than last year.”

Curtis said there are just over 50 teams registered to participate, and she believes there are more who are already working but not registered.

“We have 51 registered online, but we know there are more teams than that who are actually fundraising but haven’t registered yet,” she said. “We see teams fundraising, and they eventually get around to registering online.”

The event chair said something else new for this year’s Relay For Life will include “mission activities” in the event. “We’re going to have a chef do a presentation on healthy cooking and talking about balanced nutrition,” she said.

Hit the Road will also return to Relay. This event encompasses a 5-K run and/or a bicycle ride of 25 and 52 miles long. It is the second year for the 5-K run and the third year for the bicycle ride.

Curtis said there is a strong cycling community in Blount County. “That fits with our wellness mission,” she said. “The first year we had one, several cancer survivors rode in it, and the same thing happened in the 5-k bicycle/run,” she said.

Curtis said the Hit the Road event that will be June 4. “The 5-K run starts at 8 a.m. and the 25- and 52-mile bicycle rides start at 9 a.m. Hit the Road is actually being coordinated through the Knoxville Track Club. We have had interest expressed in this event from as far away as Chattanooga, and we feel it will pull people into Blount County specifically for our Relay event,” she said.

There will also be a 1-mile fun walk and a 1-mile fun bicycle ride. “It pulls in the concept of wellness and how we would like to focus on cancer prevention. It is very important that we find a cure and pursue treatment. At the same time, we want to focus on prevention,” she said.

Curtis said that while the teams are always working hard to raise money for cancer research, she wants the 2011 Relay to also focus on raising awareness.

“We’re looking more at having a good, fun event that supports the mission of fundraising and building awareness in the community,” she said. “We want the focus to be on the community being united. Yes, raising money is important, and we need raise money to fund cancer research and services, but we also need our community engaged in raising awareness about the fight against cancer.”

Curtis said the down economy has been tough on any organization doing fundraising. What is unique to this community is the Blount County Relay For Life has been more impacted in volunteer participation rather than in financial contributions, she said.

The chair said that Blount County’s Relay For Life event is supported by one staff partner from the Knoxville Cancer Society office, but is totally planned, organized and promoted by volunteers. “Everything around our event is volunteer-centered,” she said. “We’ve had businesses close. We’ve had people who in the past had time to volunteer to work with Relay, but they’ve seen their jobs change so they no longer have time to volunteer. We’ve also seen teams structured around specific individuals who were go-getters, and those persons may have been laid off or changed their role and can no longer participate.”

Curtis said several teams have made early, strong efforts to jump-start their fundraising.

“Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church is always strong, and they’ve had a very successful start to their fundraising activities and have had several fundraisers. Fairview United Methodist Church had a ‘Concert for the Cure,’ and one of the bigger fundraisers was the two Pink Out basketball games between Heritage High School and William Blount High School,” she said. “It raised over $5,100.”

Curtis said Cate-Russell Insurance, where she works, had a very successful balloon bouquet fundraiser on Valentines Day. In addition, the Green Meadow Country Club team had the Diamonds, Dunks and Dinner fundraiser - a dinner and fashion show, she said. “We have always done a fashion and jewelry show as one of our cornerstones, but we let the Green Meadow team take that on this year.”

The event chair said Blount County has three community employers who are key participants for Relay and will have multiple teams. “Marriott Business Services, Clayton Homes and Blount Memorial Hospital all have multiple teams,” she said. “They are always very gracious supporters of Relay For Life and give their employees time and opportunity to be involved.”

Curtis said she challenged the members of her committee this year to think ‘outside the box’ and to think about demographics not reached with Relay. “As any fundraising organization will tell you, you can’t keep going back to the same people because of attrition. It limits your success,” she said. “We talk a lot about wanting to reach out to other individuals to partner with to make our efforts more successful. We look for demographics of folks who might not be involved with Relay.”

Curtis said planners are also in the process of exploring the Relay For Life motorcycle ride tentatively named “Rally in the Valley.” A committee is organizing the first-ever event for either late April or early May.

“I’m very, very proud of the volunteers who work with our program who have brought new ideas and energy and excitement so were consistently evolving it,” she said.

Curtis said other events already scheduled include a spaghetti dinner, a golf tournament and an opportunity to support Relay For Life at an Alcoa restaurant.

On March 20, Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church is having a spaghetti lunch after services on Sunday morning. “They are also having a Trash and Treasure sale on April 30 at the church,” she said.

On March 25, Courtyard Grill on the Airport Motor Mile in Alcoa is doing a dining out event. “If you go into Courtyard Grill and take a Relay For Life flier with you, 10 percent of your check will be donated to Relay,” she said.

Anyone who would like a flier can print one off of the Blount County Relay For Life website,

In addition to team activities, Relay For Life has several cornerstone activities every year to help with the fundraising. The annual Celebrity Waiters event is set for 6 p.m. on April 2. For the second year, it will be held at the Clayton Center for the Arts.

“This is an overall Relay For Life fundraiser. It is not specific to any one team, but teams will be able to receive credit toward their fundraising goal if one of the waiters is member of their team,” she said.

The event will have a Mardi Gras theme. “We decided we wanted something really fun that had never done, to my knowledge. The Mardi Gras theme got everyone excited so we ran with it,” Curtis said.

Another change for 2011 is that Celebrity Waiters has been pushed back from late winter to early spring after inclement weather almost forced planners to cancel the 2010 event.

“Last year we dodged a bullet with inclement weather so we pushed the event out further out, and April was the best date that didn’t conflict with spring breaks and weather and everything else,” she said. “Smooth Groove will be our entertainment that night.”

Celebrity Waiters works with community leaders “hosting” tables, inviting guests to dinner and then doing the serving themselves. The diners then “tip” the servers in donations to Relay. There is competition among the Waiters to see who can raise the most money.

On May 9, the “Swinging for a Cure” Relay For Life golf tournament will be held at Green Meadow Country Club. “The tournament is for golfers all over the county to participate,” she said. “Green Meadow is a great course to play, so we are hoping we have a great turnout.”

A new event this year is the Survivor Sunday initiative. “Survivor Sunday is March 27 at churches across the community. It is non-denominational, and it is an awareness opportunity in Blount County,” Curtis said.

Curtis said Survivor Sunday is a way for churches to recognize those individuals in their congregations who are cancer survivors.

“The reason we wanted to do this is to bring awareness of the impact of cancer on our community. When you sit in an auditorium on Sunday morning and see cancer survivors stand to be recognized, you may well see that 40 to 60 percent of those present are cancer survivors,” Curtis said. “It gets your attention.”

Curtis said when the caregivers of cancer patients and loved ones of cancer patients are added in and asked to stand, often almost everyone is standing. “That is the impact cancer has on our community,” she said.

While the Relay For Life event happens once a year, teams have activities going several months in advance to help raise money. The Relay organizers hold monthly team “Pep Rallies” for volunteers to get encouragement and information.

“We are focused on teams this year,” said Curtis. “Blount County is a team united in fighting against cancer, and we call our monthly team meetings Pep Rallies. Cancer is awful, and that is why we’re working so hard for a cure.”

The pep rallies are at 6:30 p.m. on the second Tuesday of every month at Broadway United Methodist Church fellowship hall in downtown Maryville. The event is open to anyone interested in Relay For Life.

“They usually last an hour and a half, and we give folks information about Relay and event-specific information like what entertainers are going to be there, information about when they can begin setting up campsites and information about the fundraisers going on with each team so we can support each other,” she said.

Like the Relay For Life event each year, each meeting incorporates a time to recognize cancer survivors. Curtis said that practice speaks to the whole reason any of the volunteers serve. “We do lot of recognition at every pep rally,” she said. “We always recognize our survivors because our survivors are the heart of Relay.”

Curtis said the Blount County Relay For Life is once again offering the “Fight Like a Girl” cancer awareness shirts. They come in short and long sleeve T-shirts, a crew neck sweatshirt and a hooded sweatshirt.

For those who want to plan ahead -- there are only 92 days until Relay -- the event will once again Celebrate, Remember and Fight Back with kick-off at 4 p.m. on Friday, June 3. Traditional components will include the Survivors Lap, the Luminaria Ceremony and the Fight Back Ceremony, along with a smorgasbord of other activities taking place until the wrap-up at 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 4.

For more information about Relay For Life, contact Curtis at 865-607-1261, email or visit the website at

© 2011 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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