My Relay For Life Story: $160,000 of Hope
“…But what [God] did give us is the power to make a difference.”
This story began for me over three years ago. I was a senior in high school and was suffering from the all-too-familiar epidemic, “senior-itis.”
Anyone who has suffered from this disease is certainly familiar with its symptoms - we experience crazy, racing thoughts and become deluded with the impression that the world revolves around us and our own erratic life plans.
I am no exception - at that point in my life; I thought the entire world was concerned with my happiness, my future, and, well, me. I wanted everyone to like me. Senior prom needed to go smoothly for me. My GPA needed to be high so that I could rank at the top of my class. And IF I DIDN’T GET INTO A GOOD COLLEGE, MY WORLD WOULD END!
One day that fall, sign-ups appeared for a Relay For Life* committee at school. Immediately, I thought, “This is my chance to improve my resume so I can rest on my laurels and GET INTO THAT GREAT COLLEGE.”
I knew almost nothing about how a RFL comes together, but what I did know was 1) Vestavia Hills High held an incredible event each year (they always raise upwards of $250,000+, and anybody who was anybody attends) and 2) hello, resume experience!
*Relay For Life (RFL) is the signature event of The American Cancer Society.
Welcome to the wake-up call.
So, I applied for a committee position and listed my preferences.
1. Co-Event Chair
2. Fundraising Chair
3. Something else I thought would look good on a resume
I thought, “Hmm… I usually never get my first choice, so I’ll list fundraising chair second. I’m sure to get it!”
I got a position, no doubt.
One day in class, I found out that, sure enough, I was the new co-event chair of RFL. Being a chairperson meant I would be leading a high school committee of 30 or so other students. *Gulp*
I am sure now looking back, however, that God was foreshadowing what all was to follow.
During the spring, my aunt passed away after battling a brain tumor. One day, she was all right. The next, she was diagnosed with cancer. There was one thing that struck me when all of this was happening. We can be here today, and gone tomorrow.
Thus, I had my wake up call.
This was the moment the magnitude of what I was doing for RFL hit me. It was the time when I climbed out of my self-produced abyss of pure selfishness. While I was trying to survive senior year, I realized that there were people out there that were simply trying to survive life.
I became incredibly passionate about fighting to eradicate cancer and for lives that had been taken too soon because of this terrible disease.
So – there I was, eighteen years old. Legal adult. I could drive a car. Good grades. I was about to go off to college. How hard could this RFL thing be?
Surprisingly, that quickly became a rhetorical question. I was in the midst of juggling all of the nuances of figuring out what to do with the rest of my life – while leading a group of high school peers, who were all planning a large-scale fundraiser.
Relay came with its many challenges, and my introverted personality and raw leadership talent did not help me.
I had to rely on passion and a strong work ethic to help guide me as I led others towards this goal.
Fast forward to graduation day: Relay raised over 52k for cancer research, and I am throwing my cap in the air. Much to my surprise, we all made it to that day.
This was a great happy ending, sure, but that is not where my Relay story ended.
In case you were wondering, I got into a great college. #PTL (praise the Lord)
Well, there we were: three, naïve college freshman trying (struggling) to bring a Relay For Life event to campus. I can’t speak for the other two, but I thought, “Relay is second nature to me. No big deal.”
News flash: freshman year is a lot to consume at first. It’s a roller coaster ride, with many ups, and a completely separate host of downs. Also, although you think high school has prepared you for these next four GLORIOUS years, you’ll quickly come to realize it barely skimmed the surface. At least that was the consensus from my high school and college friends. #thestrugglewasreal
As for Relay, here were the facts: 1) No one on our committee had ever planned a RFL. 2) Most of the said committee knew what a Relay sort-of-kind-of looked like from attending other events. 3) I’m an introvert, so talking to all of these (at the time) strangers and explaining the process, and doing what leaders do – which is inspire, scared me. Let’s just be honest. #thestrugglewasreal-er!!!!
As you can see, we were flying this plane, all while we were building it. Like freshman year, Relay came with many ups, and whole hosts of downs. We were in the midst of familiarizing ourselves with college life, whom to turn to for help when we didn’t know what the F we were doing, and how to time manage.
After A LOT of long nights, overly caffeinated weeks, and getting under each other’s skin – Birmingham-Southern saw its first Relay For Life. We raised 52k!
These people, this school, this family: they all took this "relay-thing" and "ran" with it. They invested everything, and they left it all on the court tonight. They set up an entire Relay in the pouring monsoon today, and broke it all down at the last minute. And then set it up again. Through God's providence, His faithfulness, and these people: we STILL blew our $40,000 goal out of the 'water.' $52 who? #bscrelay15 #itsnota5K #teamworkmakesthedreamwork #relayfam
Not to toot our own horns, but we also received a very prestigious honor. Birmingham-Southern ranked in the Top 5 Per Capita Events (in the entire nation) for its school size. Our ACS liaison has said time over that this is an unheard of accomplishment for a first year event. From my perspective, it would have not been possible without our community coming together and acting as one body. It truly was a team effort.
In April, we wrapped up another successful event and surpassed our inaugural goal, raising over 55k! I had served in a student advisory role this past year and had the privilege to consult with a few other local and national RFL events.
I have been beside myself when I have walked around campus these past two years and seen almost the entire student body wearing a Relay-related t-shirts, talking about Relay, or seeing the students at a Pre-Relay fundraiser.
Snapshots from the 2015-2016 Relay event at Birmingham-Southern College.
I can go on for a decade and give you play-by-play details of these past three years – but I believe I’ve bent your ear long enough. So, I’ll end with a couple of thoughts.
You see, there is so much more to this story than checking off the volunteer box on your to-do list or resume, raising some money for a good cause, and resting on your laurels.
This next statement may counter what mainstream society believes, but the story here is that there some people in this world who are desperately hurting. We need to stop asking God to fix the world when He made us to do that.
Don’t get me wrong – volunteering and reaching a fundraising goal is remarkable. It is something to be remarked on. And I’m all about achieving a goal. I am competitive. At the core of it all, though, reaching a goal is about providing hope to cancer patients and their families. Over the past three years, those monies didn’t go towards funding my closet. It all went towards providing hope. $160,000 of Hope.
God surely didn’t make us perfect, and if you are like me – you were not born a seasoned leader. You’ve had to learn it through experience. But what He did give all of us is the power to make a difference.
Relay For Life has been a part of my life these past three years, and while it was helping me change others' lives – it was changing mine, all at the same time.
Photography by Thomas Coiner via Birmingham-Southern College