THE JAMAICA RELAY FOR LIFE STORY
Relay For Life was first held in Jamaica in June 2003 under the Chairmanship of Gurney Beckford. At that first meeting the original committee which consisted of the late Carlton Levy, Horace Abrahams, Stanford Cocking, Janette Stewart, Jan Neish, Kim Mair, Major Shane Lawrence, Commander John McFarlane, Mary Sorum and Nicola Croswell-Mair, and Marva Lee, then Administrative Director of the Jamaica Cancer Society. They laid the ground work for what is now one of Jamaica‘s most anticipated and premier cancer awareness event on the national calendar. In that year 75 cancer survivors and 1200 persons were in attendance and raised $2.9M. With each subsequent year the event has continued to grow. Relay For Life is a fundraiser but it is so much more than a fund-raiser it is the premier cancer awareness event for the Jamaica cancer Society. It is a fun-filled celebration of survivorship which allows us to honour cancer survivors; to remember those who have lost the battle; to recognize caregivers and to educate the community on the importance of early detection and to recruit new volunteers for the ongoing fight against cancer, while enjoying activities, entertainment, and fellowship.
Relay For Life is an overnight team event. A team consists of 10 or more friends, coworkers, or family members. Each team member makes a personal contribution of funds and pledges to raise a minimum of $5000 prior to the Relay. On the night of the event, the first lap of the Relay is taken by cancer survivors of all ages. They begin the Relay by walking the Survivor’s Victory Lap or the lap of honour around the track. The survivors are living proof that cancer is not a death sentence but with early detection it can be beaten. Following the opening lap, team members take turns walking around the track throughout the night.
At 10:00 p.m. the Luminaria Ceremony takes place. Luminaria Bags with candles are lit and placed around the track. Every bag has a name. Each is dedicated in honour of a cancer survivor or in memory of someone who has lost the battle. This program usually includes inspirational stories, and truly highlights the importance of fighting cancer, and gives hope towards finding a cure. The Luminaria bags surround the track and light the way, as Relay For Life participants walk throughout the night while others enjoy games, entertainment, fellowship and fun.
Over the last 18 years Relay For Life Kingston & St. Ann has raised in excess of $100million Jamaica Dollars. However since the onset of the Global Pandemic , we have struggled to raise funds and to stage a successful virtual event.
In 2002, Dr John Kelly of Gulfport Mississippi, then Chairman of the American Cancer Society accommodated a request from his neighbor Dr Roy Irons to be on the alert for an invitation from the Jamaica Cancer Society to be a Guest Speaker at the Jamaica Reach to Recovery Group’s Annual Luncheon. Soon the request was confirmed by Gurney Beckford, a friend of Dr Irons and who was also Chairman of the Jamaica Cancer Society’s Fund Raising Committee. Dr. Kelly readily accepted and gave an impressive presentation to a capacity house at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel. His experience made Dr Kelly a friend of Jamaica. It was not long afterwards he introduced and offered Relay For Life as a project to Jamaica and coordinated training in Puerto Rico for some members of the Society.
Relay For Life is a unique, challenging, and fun way to raise money for the Jamaica Cancer Society in any community, large or small – and to raise awareness of cancer and the work of the Jamaica Cancer Society. Relay For Life is a celebration!
This celebration is more than a fund-raiser; it’s an event that reaches into the community to bring together neighbors, friends, work associates and families to celebrate those who have survived cancer and to remember those who have not.
The Relay For Life concept involves a team of walkers/runners competing against each other to raise the most money and to stay all night at the event. The event is a relay that lasts for an extended period of time–an overnight event of 12-15 hours…because “cancer never sleeps.”
The event is usually held at a location with a track (high school, college, etc.) where teams of 10-15 people from corporations, hospitals, civic groups, churches, and families take turns walking in relay fashion. One team member at a time walks, jogs or runs around the track at all times throughout the 12-15 hours. While the Relay is going on, a community party atmosphere is created by team members camping out, enjoying entertainment, food, games and camaraderie.
The Relay begins in the early evening usually at 6pm with team members gathering for an opening ceremony. At this time the honored guests – cancer survivors – begin the Relay with an opening lap after which team members alternate every half hour running or walking around the track. Participants enter and leave the track from a central point, such as the start/finish line. Only one team member is allowed on the track at a time. At 10pm, a candlelight ceremony or Luminaria Ceremony is held to honor survivors and remember those who lost the battle against cancer. During this time, Luminaria (candles in bags) are placed around the track, each bearing the name of a cancer survivor or a cancer victim. As the lights are turned off, and the candles luminate the nighttime sky, each name is read aloud in a most inspiring and memorable service. Walking continues throughout the night, reminding us that cancer never stops for nighttime. At the end of the relay, a party is held to award prizes and plaques.
This is a donation event. Each team member is asked to raise a minimum of $5000 from donors before the event. Soliciting donations instead of pledges ensures that all money is collected before the event.
In addition to donations, a team registration fee of $1,200 per team member is required.
Relay For Life… an event that brings a community together to fight back against this dreaded disease called CANCER. Won’t you join us in the fight?