Sue Harmon has a long history with Relay for Life, and a personal connection to the disease that keeps her pushing to keep it from claiming more lives: Her husband lost his battle with cancer in 2009. When she moved to Williamsburg a few years later she sought out the local all-night event.
Attending last year was a letdown for Harmon. After 13 years, the routine had become stale and she said interest — and funds being raised — were waning.
Her exuberance and steady stream of new ideas led to being named chairwoman of Williamsburg’s Relay for Life, which kicks off at 5 p.m. Friday at Jamestown High School. She got pushback at first, but Harmon is working to balance a solid foundation with progressive outlook to spur the event into the future.
“I want to keep to that tradition, but you have to spark something to keep people coming back,” she said.
Relay, which has teams camping and walking a track until 7 a.m. the next morning because “cancer never sleeps,” serves as a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. This year’s efforts in Williamsburg have already raised $110,000 for the cause. With chances to donate at Relay and upcoming events, Harmon has no doubt they will reach a $220,000 goal by August.
She said the outpouring of support from the community has been wonderful.
Hearing her plea, a manager of Michaels craft store brought out 12 shopping carts full of materials for arts and crafts and decorating.
Those craft supplies will go toward the new Kids Zone at Relay, where young ones can stay involved throughout the night.
“I think families are more apt to come if they can bring their children,” Harmon said.
She is hoping to combat a trend of guests leaving at midnight. Because cancer affects kids as much as adults, she wants to involve them, too.
Other elements of the event are new or revamped this year, as well. A food court with local vendors will help fuel walkers throughout the night. A much larger Reflection Tent will have soft music, couches, photographs and candlelight for a relaxing break from the track, as well as provide information on ways to get involved with Relay and wellness resources for survivors.
Beyond Boobs!, which is partnering for the first time with Williamsburg’s Relay, will have representatives at the tent and will also speak at the survivor dinner reception prior to the first lap.
Harmon said there will also be a greater emphasis on teams fundraising at the event, selling leis for the luau theme or jewelry or food, and Relay merchandise will be for sale for the first time.
She has been working hard to pump up the teams at organization sessions and a pep rally in April, and said excitement is brewing. About 50 people attended one meeting, and 63 teams are currently registered, including many local school groups.
Harmon is eager to see it all come together Friday. She enjoys the energy of the event, with people remembering loved ones but also celebrating life.
Volunteers are still needed to hand out programs, greet survivors and assist with tasks throughout the night. For Harmon, it is those small touches that make all the difference.
“I want people to feel really welcomed and warm, and that they want to come back to this,” she said.
For more information or to make a donation, visit the Williamsburg Relay for Life website.
Partial event schedule:
- 5 to 7 p.m.: Survivor Reception, Jamestown High School Cafeteria
- 6:30 to 6:45 p.m.: Pre-opening Ceremony Announcements and Music
- 6:45 to 7 p.m.: Opening Ceremony
- 7 to 7:15 p.m.: Presentation of the colors by Boy Scout Troop 414, National Anthem by DJ Montague Mustangs Elementary School Choir
- 7:15 to 7:30 p.m.: Survivors & Caregivers Lap led by the Fife & Drum of Yorktown Alumni
- 7:30 to 7:45 p.m.: Childrens’ Lap – DJ Ron
- 9 to 9:15 p.m.: Luminaria Prayer and Ceremony
- Midnight: Midnight Memory Ceremony and Glow Stick Lap
- 12:30 to 1:30 a.m.: Line Dancing
- 2:30 a.m.: Birthday Party
- 4:30 a.m.: Trick or Treat Lap
- 5:30 to 6 a.m.: Jazzercise
- 6 to 6:30 a.m.: Yoga
- 7 a.m.: Closing Ceremonies