Every spring hundreds of community members rally together for one cause: Relay for Life — The American Cancer Society event that raises money for cancer research while honoring cancer survivors and remembering lost loved ones is close to the hearts of many Turlockers.
For Turlock High Relay for Life team coordinator Kristin Bettencourt, the event is a way to celebrate her mother surviving breast cancer while encouraging students to make healthy life choices and be involved in the community.
Relay is also a unifying event, she said.
"It's hard to find someone in this day and age that hasn't been affected by cancer. People from every race, culture and economic background have been touched by it," said Bettencourt. "The group of kids on the team come from every social group. By the end, they've become friends and bonded."
The Turlock High Relay team started their fundraising efforts last summer, selling concessions at two Turlock Sea Dogs swim team events.
"When school started we hit the ground running, holding bimonthly meetings," said Bettencourt.
The group has held a number of fundraising activities including a No Shave November contest and drive-through dinners. Those efforts have paid off — literally. The team started with a goal of raising $25,000 this year, which has already been surpassed by close to $3,000. The team's new goal is to reach $30,000 by May 16.
The team doesn't just focus on fundraising, however. During the meetings, Bettencourt educates the students on different cancer risk factors and the realities of living with the disease.
"They make things seem so glamorous to these kids, like hookah. Twenty minutes of smoking hookah can be like smoking 100 cigarettes," said Bettencourt. "This year we talked about melanoma, skin cancer and tanning. I tell the kids that they need to make good choices to have healthy bodies. If you're healthy and develop cancer, you have a better chance to survive it."
Bettencourt and the Turlock High team will be participating in the Relay for Life event being held from 8:30 a.m. May 16 to 8:30 a.m. May 17 at the Pitman High School track. This community-wide event has 33 teams and 555 participants signed up and has already raised a combined $59,863 as of Thursday.
Kicking off the city's Relay events this year, however, will be California State University, Stanislaus which is hosting its Relay for Life from 5 p.m. today until 5 p.m. Saturday. The university event has eight teams and 124 participants signed up and has already raised $2,651.
Community members are encouraged to come out and support teams at both events. Relay for Life teams will have booths set up around each track site, with team members taking turns walking the track over a 24-hour period. There are also a few key moments during the event: Opening Ceremonies, including the Survivors Lap where cancer survivors are invited to take the first lap around the track to celebrate their victory over cancer; the Luminaria Ceremony, a more solemn part of the event where candles are lit inside personalized bags around the track as tributes to those who've been affected by cancer; and the Fight Back Ceremony, where participants pledge to take action to fight cancer year-round.
"We would love to have more support from the community," said Taylor Howard, American Cancer Society community manager for Relay for Life in Stanislaus County. "The event volunteer teams have worked really hard."
For more information about Turlock's Relay for Life events, or to donate to a local team, visit relayforlife.org and search for "Turlock."