Ali Flynn and Gigi Antonelle sat in the audience at the American Cancer Society Eastern Division Relay For Life Summit where nearly 500 volunteers and staff of the organization were gathered.
When they heard Katonah Lewisboro announced as the the 'Relay for Life Rookie of the Year'—signaling they'd raised the most amount of money among a pool of other new Relay events across New York and New Jersey—they were stunned.
"We couldn't believe it," said Flynn, who last year organized with Antonelle and Leah Pizer the first annual local Relay for Life, an overnight fundraising walk held last summer at John Jay High School. The event involved almost a thousand people locally and raised close to $200,000 for cancer research.
The award showed how much the community rallied together for Relay for Life, Flynn said.
"We may have organized the event, but it would have been nothing without the volunteers," she said.
The primary purpose of a Relay for Life is to raise money for cancer research. Money is raised prior to the event, and additional dollars come in throughout the night through luminaria sales—paper bag lanterns in honor of cancer victims and survivors—and mini-fundraisers like jewelry, beverage sales, or whatever creative ideas are implemented by teams.
A secondary purpose, Flynn said, is to signify the difficulties of living with the disease. Participants walk laps around the track at the high school from dusk until dawn in a symbolic trek meant to represent the physical and emotional struggles individuals and their caregivers have with cancer.
The event's inauguration in Katonah-Lewisboro was largely due to the driving force of a JJHS student who lost her grandmother to blood cancer and her father to brain cancer.
She and Flynn are chairing this year's Relay and they're getting ready to kick off "Relay season" in the area, with a meeting to be held on Jan. 31 from 7:30 - 8:30 p.m. at John Jay High School. The purpose of the meeting is to give out awards to last year's participants, hear from cancer survivors and caregivers and motivate the group for this year's Relay, slated for Jun. 21.
Flynn said they plan to make the event "bigger and better" and get more of the community involved.
"Some people in town have not yet heard of Relay for Life. But most everyone has been touched by cancer," she said.
For more information on the K-L Relay for Life, attend the Jan. 31 meeting, or check out the event page here.