Teams kick off Relay for Life

Velma Youngs of Fruitport was missing the funeral of a dear friend today so she could walk and raise money in his memory at the American Cancer Society Relay for Life being held this weekend at White Pines Middle School.
Becky Vargo
May 14, 2012

 

“I’m going to stop and take a moment of silence for him (Charlie Churchill of Shelby) at 3 p.m.,” she said.

Youngs said she was also walking in honor of her aunt, who died July 10, 2011, and her father who died July 30, 2011.

Youngs was just one of several hundred people planning to walk in honor of loved ones, and to help raise money for the American Cancer Society.

Team members started walking at 9 a.m. today, and then paused for opening ceremonies, which featured music by the Grand Haven Choral Ensemble and a pep talk by Alex Willey, the local representative for the American Cancer Society.

“We’re here to get well, stay well and find ways to fight back,” Willey said.

She noted money raised in local events was used to support things like the Hope Lodge in Grand Rapids where people can stay for free while being treated for cancer.

The Hawkins family from Grand Haven was also represented in strength at the Tri-Cities Family Credit Union tent, where Jena Hawkins and her friend Alliah Leonard, both 15, were busy making a banner for their tent.

“My mom and grandma are survivors,” Jena said.

Her mother, Birdella Hawkins, is a two-time cancer survivor.

“She had cancer, was cured, then had cancer again after I met her,” said her husband, Rex.

Birdella said she had just been treated for her second round of cervical cancer when she found out she was pregnant with her twins, Jena and Travis.

The first time she was diagnosed was in 1984, and that’s when she started participating in the relay, which at the time was called the Lakeshore Classic, she said.

Her children have been part of each relay since they were born.

“I love this,” Travis said. “I’ve done this so long it became a part of me.”

Travis said he is also using this year’s Relay for Life as a way to earn citizenship in the community for Boy Scouts. That will make him a Life Scout, with the possibility of earning his Eagle Scout award within six months.

Event Chairwoman Jackie Vandenberg said she was excited about this year’s event and pleased that there were more teams than last fall, considering the change in timing of the event.

Vandenberg said 24 teams were participating and the weather was great.

She was looking forward to the Survivor/Caregiver ceremony at 2 p.m. and the Lumineria Ceremony at 9 p.m.

Grand Haven High School junior Jake Jager, who was diagnosed with cancer last fall, will be the speaker. Jager’s father, who was a football coach at Grand Valley State University, died from cancer a couple of years ago.

Jake was part of the choral ensemble, which sang, in opening ceremonies today.

Vandenberg said the public is invited to the ceremonies, and is also invited to walk among the team tents on the field.

“A lot of the tents have onsite fundraisers,” she said.

The local Relay for Life is a 24-hour event, which will continue through the night.

A sunrise service presented by the First Presbyterian Church will be held at 7 a.m. Sunday, followed by breakfast and the closing ceremony at 8:30 a.m.

 

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