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Relay for Life Keeps Vigil

The Westchase community continued its decade-long tradition by staging the all-night Relay for Life fundraiser event at Davidsen Middle School over April 28 and 29.

It celebrated cancer survivors, remembered those who lost the fight and provided hope for people who are battling the disease.

All proceeds – which are still being collected until Aug. 31 – will benefit the American Cancer Society. The Westchase event also benefitted from Delta’s Day of Hope, a one-day fundraiser held at the Delta Air Lines airside terminal inside Tampa International Airport.

“The people of Westchase and the surrounding communities are fantastic,’’ said Liz Evans, the Relay for Life’s Community Manager at the ACS Tampa office. “Each Relay of Life event in each community around the country has its own personality. There was a lot of spirit and emotion at Westchase and it was very meaningful.’’

Event organizer Effie Santos, along with leadership team members Tahirih Doniger and Lisa Dill, mobilized the volunteers. More than 450 people participated, including 25 cancer survivors and their caregivers.

The event began at 6 p.m. and ended the following day at 6 a.m., a symbol of ever-vigilant volunteers who stood up against the disease that never sleeps.

The Relay for Life brought together family and friends, people from schools, businesses and hospitals, along with faith-based groups. They organized into teams and held lead-up fundraisers in friendly competition. Then, during the event, many of the teams sold food and drinks to raise more money.

Cancer survivors and their caregivers were treated to a special dinner and began the activities with a Survivor Lap, where they walked around the Davidsen track to celebrate their victory over cancer.

After sundown, the Luminaria Ceremony featured illuminating candles, which spelled an inspirational word – Hope.

During the ceremony, white bags with small flames were placed around the track. Each luminaria was personalized in honor of a loved one who battled cancer – either a parent, sibling, relative or friend. Relay participants walked a silent, reflective lap alongside the luminaria.

Efforts were made to make certain at least one team member is walking around the track at all times, keeping the relay going through the night until the closing ceremonies.

The ACS set a $2.25-million fundraising goal for the nation’s Relay for Life events, which are held in 5,800 different communities.

“For most people involved, this is a very personal and emotional cause,’’ Evans said. “People come out to support the mission, which is to find a cure for this disease.

“I go into work every day knowing we’re all contributing to something very important. I get to work with amazing volunteers, people who are dedicated to a cause much bigger than then themselves. It reminds you there are wonderful people everywhere.’’

That continued when the Westchase event benefitted from Delta’s Day of Hope at TIA, one of 110 airports nationwide that participated with Delta, a national sponsor of Relay for Life.

As passengers boarded or deplaned in the Delta terminal, they were greeted by a balloon arch, music, a bake sale and hot dogs.

“This is a passion for all of us,’’ said Delta manager Kathy Owens, who also worked at the Westchase Relay for Life event at Davidsen. “I’ve worked for Delta for 35 years and I’m very proud of our involvement.

“You might be having a bad day or lost in something else, but when you see a cause like this and the dedicated people, it puts everything in perspective.’’

Owens said she was impressed with Westchase’s Relay for Life event.

“The people were very passionate and anyone who is willing to spend the night with a bunch of teenagers deserves a lot of credit,’’ Owens said with a laugh. “It was special to watch the energy of those teenagers. They were being givers in their community.’’

Anyone interested in contributing to Relay for Life can contact Evans at elizabeth.evans@cancer.org or (813) 319-5916.

For more information on the Westchase event or to get involved for 2018, log onto http://www.relayforlife.org/westchasefl

By Joey Johnston

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