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It's hard to believe this April 20 weekend will mark the fifth annual Relay for Life in Culver, but organizers assured community members at a recent kickoff event at the train station-depot, that indeed it is.
Coming off of a total of $138,000 raised for the American Cancer Society at last year's student-led event, that puts Culver on track to top the half-million dollar mark this year (the grand total for the previous four is $490,000).
No one who's been paying attention, however, thinks the only accomplishment of these events is strictly monetary. Instead, starting with the very first Relay in 2008, the all-night fundraiser combined a powerful presence of support (for those battling cancer) and memorial (for those lost to it), with the remarkable accomplishment of bringing together the diverse sub-communities of the Culver area towards one goal all can agree upon, whether "town," "Academy," or "lake."
Last year's Relay represented a departure from the past in that poor weather forced it indoors, to Culver Academies' multi-purpose building. This year, says Marin Barnes -- who has been involved with Culver Relays since she was in 8th grade -- the event will be both indoors and outdoors. Laps walked, as well as the ever-important luminaria ceremony, will be indoors at the multi-purpose, while a host of activities will take place in the adjacent field just outside. And, she says, there will be a special component -- to be announced -- to this year's luminaria ceremony, in which hundreds of paper bags, adorned with names of those fighting, or lost to cancer, are lit during a silent, darkened lap in their honor.
Dropping temperatures overnight had long been a drawback to past years' outdoor setting, something Barnes says will be alleviated, as was the case last year, by keeping the walking indoors.
According to Trisha Metz, regional American Cancer Society representative, feedback on last year's indoor setting was "wonderful."
So, says Academies student co-chair Larissa Landis, organizers polled Academies students, who appreciated the action outside, while adults in the community were in favor of the indoor setting. So, says Barnes, the group agreed to a split.
While activities are still in the planning stages, Metz says the regular roster of fun inflatables will be housed out-of-doors, as of course will be the fireworks display called off last year due to inclement weather (that is, if weather this year permits).
As in years past, events will begin Friday evening, and teams will continue to walk laps, in relay form, throughout the night until dawn.
Metz does want to stress one point this year: since it's illegal in Indiana for the American Cancer Society to engage in a raffle or game of chance, no monies from such activities, however well intentioned, may be accepted by the ACS. Organizations with a license to hold raffles and the like may do so, but only in their own name, after which the group may choose to donate monies to the ACS if they wish.
As is the case with virtually all participants, this year's student and community leaders have personal reasons to invest time, effort, and money into Relay for Life.
Barnes recalls the death, from cancer, of Vickie Russell, a coworker of Barnes' mother Corey, just a few months before the first Relay. Additionally, Barnes' sister Katie was part of the first Relay committee in 2008.
Landis, an Academies senior, has been participating in Relay events since she was eight years old, though she says as a little girl she didn't fully understand what she was doing in the events. However, when she came to Culver and say a Relay booth, she immediately joined, and has participated all of her four years in Culver (last year marked her 10th year in Relays overall).
Barnes and Landis were joined at the event by Academies junior Chloe Morches, team development chair for the event.
Also present at the kickoff was Karen Easterday, who celebrated her 10th year cancer-free, last September.
"I am so thrilled with Relay," she says, noting she participated in Relay events with her church in Rochester before Culver's event, and will "continue to participate forever."
Landis points out the uniqueness of Culver's Relay: among its other notable qualities, Culver's is one of very few such events organized and run by high school students. It's also very much the "little Relay that could." Landis notes Culver's event raises more money than the vastly larger city of South Bend Relay.
Metz points to the outstanding accolades and support given the event by members of Culver Academies' board of trustees, and, she adds, the "impact it makes on the leadership, for the youth, and on the community."
Those interested in participating or supporting Culver's Relay for Life may do so online at relayforlife.org/culverin.