Matthew Leifheit

Volunteers at Yale kicked off their Relay for Life preparations at Dwight Hall Tuesday night with music, cookies and Olympic-themed decorations.

The kickoff event was held to register participants and generate excitement for the upcoming walkathon in April, which will raise money for cancer research through the American Cancer Society. For its 11th year in a row, the walkathon will take place in the Lanman Center at Payne Whitney Gymnasium on April 15 from 3 p.m. to 12 a.m.  The fundraiser is organized by Yale volunteers in conjunction with a representative from the American Cancer Society. According to Thomas Tolton ’16, event co-chair, donations from last year’s relay brought total donations from the past decade up to the $1 million mark. He said approximately 500 participants raised $3,600 from the fundraiser last year , and organizers hope to raise closer to $4,000 at Yale this year. At the kickoff event, organizers expressed their excitement and their plans for the relay.

“Relay for Life aims to bring community members together in solidarity and to empower us with hope and courage,” said Braden Miller ’16, an event organizer who has been involved with the relay for three years. “The whole process of getting everyone together strengthens the bond between members of the Yale community and reminds them that we’re all in this together.”

Donations for Relay for Life come from registration fees as well as fundraisers coordinated by the individuals and teams who sign up for the walkathon. In addition to contributing to research through the American Cancer Society, proceeds also go toward funding cancer research at Yale.

According to Relay for Life community manager Ericka Ganley, Yale researchers have received roughly $7.9 million in grant money from the American Cancer Society. She added that Yale is the American Cancer Society’s highest funded research site in the state.

Volunteers emphasized the success of last year’s event and said they hope to raise more support and awareness this year.

“We really gained momentum,” Ganley said. “The event last year was really wonderful and set the foundation for building back up for this year.”

Organizers also discussed the importance of reaching out to the community and dispelling misconceptions about the walkathon, such as the idea that it is a pro-life event or competitive race.

The event is a 12-hourlong walkathon during which participating individuals can walk around the track at Payne Whitney for as long as they want, said Relay for Life event co-chair Lina Najem ’18. She added that money raised goes not only to crucial cancer research, but also to lesser known services for patients such as treatment and various forms of emotional support, including partners to accompany patients to chemotherapy treatments, care houses and support groups.

“Almost everyone, I’m sure, in one capacity or another, knows someone who has cancer or is affected by cancer,” Tolton said. “ That’s why I’m still a part of it — it’s something I did in high school and is still something I’m really thankful to be involved in.”

Students registering for the event, such as Ariel Hernandez-Leyva ’16, said they were excited to participate and contribute to an important cause.

Former event co-chair Danielle Currin ’16 added that a particularly moving part of the night is the Luminaria ceremony, which involves decorating paper bags in honor or in memory of loved ones who have battled cancer. Candles placed inside the bags are lit as the gym lights are turned off. The ceremony also includes speeches and a silent lap, Currin said. Although the relay is an emotional experience for many, it can also be a celebration of life, she added.

“It’s a party, for the most part,” Currin said. “It’s a celebration of all that we’ve accomplished so far and how much more there’s still left to do.”