Now in its 11th year, the Austintown Relay For Life has come a long way. Austintown branched off from the Boardman Relay, one of the biggest Relays in the state, in 2000. Since then, Austintown has hit slumps here and there, but 2010 is shaping up to be a good year, with at least 30 teams participating. "It's growing back up this year," said Melissa Bohr, co-chair of the Austintown Relay. She explained that last year there were only about 20 teams.
But Bohr is happy with the Austintown Relay's size. "There's that closeness," she said. "That's why you want to come back." Bohr added that the smaller size allows Relayers to get to know the other people they're participating with. "We're small but mighty," Bohr said.
One of the largest participants at the Austintown Relay is the Austintown Community Church, with three teams taking part. The church has about 40 people involved in Relay this year, but the recommended team size is 10 to 15 people, so the church divided into three teams. They work together as one team for fundraising, which allows people who can't commit a lot of time to Relay to still get involved.
Austintown Relay for Life celebrated its 10-year anniversary in 2009 as shown at the luminary ceremony. This year’s Relay event will take place June 4 and 5 at Austintown Fitch High School.
"We have a lot of survivors at the church," said Jennifer Weaver, co-chair of the Austintown Relay and a member of the Austintown Community Church team. "We've pretty much been involved with Relay in Austintown since the beginning."
Like many successful Relay teams, the church fundraises all year round in addition to heavier fundraising at Relay time. The church has put on Pampered Chef and Tupperware shows, bake sales, and basket raffles for Pampered Chef, Longaberger and Tupperware baskets. They've also sold luminaries, stars and moons, in addition to receiving a lot of donations.
The Austintown Community Church's goal for all three of their Relay teams this year is $10,000.
Relay For Life
WHERE: Austintown Fitch High School, 4560 Falcon Drive
WHEN: 6 p.m. June 4 to 6 p.m. June 5
While the Austintown Community Church has been doing Relay for years, the PsyCare team is participating for the first time in 2010.
"We're very excited," said Mary Wargo, team captain and a PsyCare employee.
Learning the Relay ropes while fundraising and managing a team can be overwhelming, but Wargo has had a lot of support.
"The people at Austintown have been wonderful," she said, citing Relay meetings for new team captains. "I've had a lot of help," Wargo said.
PsyCare is a big enough company, with nine clinic locations and about 170 employees, that most of the team's fundraising has been internal.
"We find that our employees are very generous when it comes to Relay," said Wargo.
PsyCare has been having "jean days" at work for the last six months, where employees can pay $1 for each day they wish to wear jeans. The team sells snacks at each of the clinics for the employees and held a Chinese auction at the company's Christmas party. They've also sold raffle tickets and baked good and are already coming up with ideas for next year.
PsyCare's goal for their first Relay was $2,000, but they have upped it to $3,000.
The Austintown Relay's overall goal for its 11th year is $72,000.
The goal of the Austintown Relay, as well as many other Relays, is to have constant entertainment for the Relay participants. Many Relay participants attend Relay for the full 24 hours of the event, and some even walk that entire 24 hours. "You just try to keep it going the whole 24 hours," said Cheri Theisler, the co-chair of activities and entertainment for the Austintown Relay. "And that's tough."
Theisler and her co-chair, Heather Gollan, have a lot planned so far. The first big event is the survivor dinner at 6:30 on Friday night, which will feature the Fitch Jazz Band. At 7:30, musician John Ruman will be performing until the Luminaria Ceremony at 9. Popular local band The Rage will be performing from 10 p.m. until midnight.
The next morning, the Austintown Relay will hold its annual community breakfast from 7 to 10 a.m. Tickets are sold at the door, and the breakfast is open to anyone in the community. Other morning entertainment includes cloggers and Irish step dancers.
In addition to the constant entertainment, Relayers will also have plenty of activities to keep their minds off sleep. Every year, Walgreens puts on an obstacle course in the center of the field. "The kids love it," Theisler said. To get Relayers through those tough overnight hours, Theisler will be giving away small prizes for contest such as "best midnight snack" and "worst bedhead." Another activity is a canned-food "sculpture" contest. The best canned-food "sculpture" will win a prize, and the food will be donated to a local food bank.
"We're also trying to help the community," said Theisler.
There's one thing that Theisler really wants to emphasize. "It's not just for people who have cancer. It's for the community," she said. "Just come and see."