By Diane Glidewell
Butts County's Relay for Life event was once again successful in many ways this year. The celebration held overnight at the Butts County Parks & Recreation Department football field and track on Friday to Saturday, April 23-24 was the culmination of months of planning and work on the part of the Relay for Life Committee and the many individuals who united in 18 teams to raise money for the fight against cancer through the American Cancer Society.
This was the 26th year since Relay for Life began and over 25,000 relays were planned in the United States this year, plus international rallies. Cancer is a disease whose impact ranges wide but it also could not be more personal. There is hardly a man, woman, or child in Butts County whose life has not been touched in some way by "the Big C." Everyone has a family member, neighbor, or friend who has suffered because of cancer, either their own or that of someone dear to them.
Donna Owens and Pat Crawford have co-chaired the Butts County Relay for Life for four years now. They represent the two aspects of cancer's impact which Relay for Life strives to support: Donna is a cancer survivor, and Pat was a caregiver, losing her mother to cancer. Over the last four years, Donna and Pat have heard many heart wrenching stories from people dealing with cancer, and they have also heard many accounts of strength and triumph from cancer survivors.
Gerri Meadows, who has worked with the Relay Committee for several years and is the luminary chair this year, has agreed to take over the duties of chairman next year. She plans to make the fundraising and educational efforts of Relay for Life even more of a year-round effort in the coming year.
"Relay doesn't happen without a lot of people," said Pat. "It is our way of telling survivors and caregivers how important you are to us."
The weekend event actually kicked off on Thursday evening with a dinner for cancer survivors at the Butts County Community Center catered by Ryan's Classic Catering of Atlanta South 75 Travel Center. The meal was provided, as it has been for several years, by Bob Ryan, who is himself a cancer survivor.
The meal and camaraderie was enjoyed by all present, and the decorations and theme of "More Birthdays" was deemed highly appropriate to the spirit. Roberta "Tiny" Miley was recognized as the longest survivor at 43 years. The youngest survivor present has been diagnosed with cancer less than 30 days ago. Survivor t-shirts were given to all of the survivors present.
"I have been asked the price to buy a survivor's shirt," said Pat. "I had to reply that the price was too high."
The American Cancer Society set Butts County's fundraising goal at $50,000, a little below the total raised last year. The response and the excitement from the teams, in spite of the challenge of the economy, has been surprisingly strong. The goal to ring the track with luminaries in memory and in honor of those who have faced cancer fell just a few feet short.
The luminaries were lit shortly after dark to let their lights shine around the track. After Meadows read a tribute to all those represented by the lights, Master of Ceremonies Duane Kline read out the list of names one by one.
For the first time this year, Relay included a huge Balloon Release to "Let your memories soar." Just before sundown, white and purple balloons were released into the sky. The earth-friendly biodegradable balloons with cotton string were sold for $1 each, with white signifying "in memory" and purple saying "in honor." The balloons quickly rose high into the blue sky, hung aloft for a moment as if for a salute to those below, and then moved out of sight.
In spite of the somber reason for the fundraiser, the event itself was a festive celebration of life. The Recreation Department parking lots filled in all directions, and people enjoyed the music and special entertainment from the stage and the selection of food and games at the many tents around the field. Children of all ages enjoyed creating their own games with balls and Frisbees in the midst of the field and on its outskirts as masses of walkers continued to keep moving around the track in the original spirit of the "Relay."