June 2, 2005 The Charlotte Amalie High School race track will be transformed into "A Culture of Hope 2005" from noon June 25 until noon June 26, as the American Cancer Society stages is fourth annual Relay for Life.
Speaking on Raul Carrillo's "Afternoon Mix" radio show on WVWI on Thursday, Barbara Petersen, the event's spokeswoman, said the relay has "grown by leaps and bounds." She said, "The first year, we had about 15 teams; last year we had 60; and this year, we expect about 85 teams."
The event is fast becoming an island tradition. All sorts of people — kids, corporate teams, individual teams, spectators, anyone who wants to feel a part of the community — take it to heart.
If previous year's events hold to form, as dawn breaks on June 26, the team members will still be circling, wiping towels across foreheads, some chatting, some silently determined, some chomping on donuts or fruit. The camaraderie and the high spirits have become infectious at this point, even though it's been a long night.
Teams set up tents in the center of the track. They bring food, coolers, music, anything to keep spirits up through the wee hours. The tents are all judged, and some of them could compete in Carnival Village. Petersen said, "My favorite part is sampling all the food everybody brings."
Chatting with Basil Ottley Jr, who was sitting in for Carrillo Thursday, Petersen explained how the teams work. "The Relay for Life happens when 15 people form a team and raise a minimum of $1,650, which is a $150 registration fee, and each member pledging $100."
Anybody can form a team, she said, and corporations and companies also enter. The team commits to having at least one member on the track for the entire 24 hours of the relay. Petersen noted, "It's not a race you can walk, jog, or crawl, just so you are on the track."
She said the teams work all year to raise the money from bingo games, bake sales, car washes, whatever they come up with. She said the V. I. Water and Power Authority, which has had the most teams in the last three years, has bake sales all year. "You can always see them when you go to WAPA to pay your bill," she said.
The relay is the primary fund raising event for the American Cancer Society. Last year, it raised $150,000 in the territory, and Petersen said this year's goal is $200,000. "The V.I. is unique in that all the money we raise stays in the territory. Other jurisdictions send a portion to the national office, but since we have to send people off-island for treatment, we get to keep our money," she said.
Petersen said the ACS provides direct financial assistance to cancer patients for travel and medical expenses. The ACS also pays for cancer screening for breast and prostate cancer. "Last year we paid for the first 100 mammograms for people without medical insurance," she said. "We pay for caregivers accompanying a patient to the states. This year we spent $55,000 on air travel alone."
"The disease affects everybody," Petersen said. In her own family, her grandmother was a cancer victim. "Our whole family are cancer advocates," Petersen said. Her mother, Candia Petersen, is president of the ACS St. Thomas-St. John unit. Petersen's brother, Dr. Bert Petersen, is a nationally known cancer specialist and one of the driving forces behind the Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Center.
Each year, the committee selects a poster child, Petersen said, and this year's is Kenisha Crossley. "She was diagnosed when she was 13, and she is 15 now. It goes deeper than money; she has lost a lot of school," Petersen said. "Different members her family travel to the states with her, and they spell each other when they have to return here to go back to work. And she needs a wheelchair now."
Petersen said her mother was totally taken by Kenisha. "When she saw her, she said "she is a beautiful, shining light."
And a light did shine on Kenisha later in the radio program. After a commercial break, Ottley said somebody had called the station and donated a wheelchair for the teenager. "I was flabbergasted," Petersen said. "What a caring community we have."
An Innovative Telephone employee, Henry Richards, called the station to say his company is backing a team this year for the first time. He said Kenisha's father is an Innovative employee. He also said Innovative executives will be "washing cars" to raise money. "We are going to challenge WAPA this year," Richards said. WAPA has won the most awards for the past three years.
Petersen said the U.S. Postal Service has also come up with a challenge. The USPS team is challenging any other teams to meet at Iggy's Bologno Bay bar at 8 p.m. Saturday for a Karaoke sound off.
A first for this year, Petersen said, is a TV crew that will be filming the relay and various events around the island: the Karaoke challenge, bake sales, the mocko jumbie, the entertainment at the relay. She said, "It will be a 10-minute video to show how we raise money in the V.I.," she said. "The reason we called it a 'Culture of Hope' is to reflect our special culture. The crew is filming a video that will be used to send to other areas to inspire them to start relays."
About 80,000 communities now conduct their own relays, she said.
Petersen stressed that only team members, cancer survivors, volunteers, caregivers and the committee are allowed to walk or run in the event. "We have had some misunderstanding in the past," she said.
Anyone is welcome to attend the event for a $10 admission fee, which includes a t-shirt and participation in the tug of wars, basketball games, jump rope, dominoes or any other event taking place.
There is something going on all night line dances, soldier crab races, music, on-stage entertainment, a basketball shoot-out, a hat and parasol contest. And there's plenty of events to keep children occupied, too movies, musical chairs, a jungle gym, face painting.
At 8 a.m. there are wake-up aerobics, a yoga class, sunrise services and a gospel fest, followed by award ceremonies at 9:30 a.m.
Petersen said there are still a few slots left for teams to enter. For information, call the ASC at 775-5373. "You have to come with your registration fee, and we need to know what your T-shirt sizes are," she said.
Cancer survivor Felecia Hall is this year's honorary chairperson. Michael Farrington is the guest speaker for the 9 p.m. Luminary Ceremony, Petersen said.
"At The Luminary Ceremony, we turn out all the stadium lights, and we put a candle in a paper bags filled with sand which are placed all around the track. It is very moving. The candles represent loved ones who have passed away, or they support someone living with the disease."
The Luminaries can be bought at the event for $5. The ACS will provide a medical booth with information and testing throughout the event, and there will be relay souvenirs for sale.
Sponsors for this year's relay are: Knight Quality Stations, ADT, Baker Magras, Innovative Telephone, Department of Health, AH Riise, The Floor Factory, Schneider Regional Medical Center, MSI, Subway, Cardow Jewelers Inc., Kellog, Ocean Spray, First Bank, Caribbean Sun, VI Ear Nose and Throat, Jackson Comples, ICMC, Sherwin Williams, McDonalds, Community Medical lab, Innovation by Design, Tutu Park Mall, St. Thomas Church of Christ and Proctor and Gamble.
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