Relay For Life: County efforts stand out statewide

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Messenger photo by Kristy Zurbrick

Debbie Chaffins enters the 2008 Relay For Life weekend with extra momentum behind her efforts. She and her survivors committee won last year’s “Heart of Relay” survivorship award from the Ohio Division of the American Cancer Society. The local Relay also earned a statewide award for advocacy in 2006.

Whether it’s simply a note to say “hi” or an e-mail update on someone’s prognosis, Debbie Chaffins and her Relay For Life survivors committee keep in touch year-round with over 500 Madison County area cancer survivors.

For their efforts, the group received a “Heart of Relay” award from the Ohio Division of the American Cancer Society (ACS). The state organization gives out only one award per category per year. Madison County won the advocacy award in 2006 and the survivorship award in 2007.

“Debbie just goes above and beyond. She’s such an outgoing personality. The survivors love coming back to the Relay year after year for her,” said Sue Pairan, income development director for the ACS Ohio Division.

Chaffins, a resident of West Jefferson, first got involved with Relay For Life as a member of the team recruitment committee.

“I did that for a year, but decided that wasn’t the place for me. My husband is a cancer survivor, and I thought I could help people more there,” she said.

Five years later, Chaffins is still going strong with the help of her committee: Ashley Barr, Jackie Barr, Renee Barr, Judy Bivens, Chris Chaffins, Robbi Daily, Geoff Delong, Jess Gross, Carol Haenszel, Jenny Hildebrand, Denise Houser, Rachael Houser and Matthew McClellan.

“Everybody on that committee tries to make it as nice as possible for the survivors,” said Chaffins, referring to the annual survivors dinner that takes place at the start of Relay weekend.

This year’s dinner theme is smiley faces; they graced the invitations Chaffins sent on June 1 and will float in balloon form as table decorations on June 13 at West Jefferson High School.

“I want it to be a happy event,” said Chaffins, who knows all too well the potential sad side of a cancer diagnosis. She has attended calling hours for some of the individuals to whom she has sent e-mails over the years.

In keeping with the upbeat theme, Chaffins collaborated with Charlotte Hay to create a DVD featuring Relay images from 2004 to the present, all set to celebratory music. The DVD will be played at the dinner; each survivor will receive a copy.

“Relay isn’t all about raising money,” she said. It’s about the people who deal with the disease and the fight to help them overcome it.

Other statewide recognition

The “Heart of Relay” survivorship award is just one of the accolades the Madison County Relay For Life has earned in the past year.

As the 17th largest Relay in Ohio, the Madison County event qualifies for the new “Relay Club.” Reserved for the top 50 Relays in Ohio, club status affords members a hotline for questions and a forum for sharing successful fundraising ideas.

The top 50 Relays generate more than half of the fundraising income for Ohio.

“For a county with a population of just over 40,000, Madison County, to raise the money they do, is doing a phenomenal job,” Pairan said. “It’s a real honor to be their staff partner.”

The state ACS office recognizes Relay groups as a whole, as well as teams and individuals within those groups for their fundraising efforts above $10,000. Last year, the Madison County Relay had four teams raise over $10,000, one team surpass $20,000, and one team raise over $30,000.

Additionally, one participant from last year’s Madison County Relay raised the third highest amount as an individual in Ohio.

“Wally Sickles, who lives in Galloway, relays in honor of his niece, a cancer survivor who was re-diagnosed in January. Her cancer has metastasized to her lungs,” Pairan said.

Sickles raised over $20,000 last year. So far this year, he is past the $26,000 mark. His goal is $30,000.

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