I’ve never felt more part of the community than I did recently at the Five College Relay for Life. There were 1,372 participants making up 149 relay teams. Members of the community raised $92,382 for the American Cancer Society. It is estimated that Relay for Life events have raised over $3 billion to date.
This was my first time participating in Relay for Life and I can’t wait to do another soon! I joined the UMass Student Government Association (SGA) team and I was so proud of how many teams were affiliated with UMass Amherst. Members of the community and students from the five major colleges in the area—Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, Amherst College, Hampshire College, and of course UMass Amherst—united to spread cancer awareness, celebrate the lives of survivors, remember those who lost their lives to cancer.
Relay for Life is the main volunteer-driven cancer fundraising event of the American Cancer Society and its main objective is to raise money for cancer research and cancer patients. Their goal is simple: a world with less cancer and more birthdays. Relay events are held in local communities, usually at high schools, at military bases, or on college campuses with tracks. The Five College Relay was held at Amherst College this year.
It’s an overnight relay-style event, so teams camp out around the track and take turns walking around the track all night long. Throughout the night, there were games and performances as well as fundraising opportunities. Although laughs and smiles were exchanged throughout the night, the Survivors Lap and the Luminaria Ceremony had everyone choked up. It was so inspirational to see cancer survivors circle the track together and it was touching to see hundreds of simple white bags lit up with candles, each one representing someone who has been affected by cancer. Some were placed around the track and others were arranged to spell “HOPE” in the bleachers. It seemed like everyone knew a friend, a neighbor, a family member, who had been diagnosed with cancer.
Collaboration among the Five Colleges and student involvement in the community goes beyond this once-a-year event, however. The Five College Consortium was established in 1965 and allows students to study at the other institutions and utilize their resources for no additional cost. The campuses are linked by bus, which is free to ride for UMass faculty, students, and staff. There are a number of certificate programs connecting the campuses as well. We work together to put on a number of educational events, performances, and social activities, too.
Special thanks to those who create a sense of community in the Pioneer Valley and to everyone who helped make this year’s Relay for Life event a success! Next time I participate, I hope I'm lucky enough to have such a close team again.