High schoolers organize 2006 Relay for Life

Kevin Wilson: PNT Staff Writer

Though it’s open to everybody, the 2006 Relay for Life will be like the inventions that Norville Barnes created in the 1994 film “The Hudsucker Proxy:” You know, for kids.

The annual fund-raising event for cancer research is entering its first stages for 2006, and the stages will be done with a focus on youth.

“It’s a real relay in every way,” said Dorothy Nelson, the American Cancer Society’s community relationship manager for Southeastern New Mexico. “There is going to be a survivor ceremony. There will be a luminaria lighting.
“Adult-type sponsored teams are welcome, but it is organized by a youth organization. It’s geared a little bit more toward the youth.”

The Relay for Life is the main project for Family, Career and Community Leaders of America for 2006, and the Portales High School FCCLA chapter is taking the reins for the event.
Ashley Birkholz, a senior at PHS, and Selena Velasco, a junior, are the event’s co-chairs. The two went with Nelson to a conference in Tempe, Ariz. in October, where they learned about the Relay for Life, an event that neither had ever participated in.

“The seminar really got me motivated,” Birkholz said. “Even though we’ve never done it, it looks like a lot of fun. There are a lot of people really excited about it.”

There is still plenty of time to prepare, with the event set for Feb. 24-25 at Greyhound Arena, However, December marks an early registration period where teams can pay $25 to register their first five members. Other members and members who sign up after Dec. 30 must pay $10 each to register.

Nelson said registration packets are on their way to team captains from last year’s event, which raised approximately $27,000. This year’s goal is $40,000. Nelson said the most the Portales relay has ever raised is $37,000.

Birkholz estimates that is a reasonable goal if 400 people participate, meaning that each person would be responsible for raising $100.

Nelson was pleased that the chairs came up with such a lofty goal, but admitted it’s going to be a tough number to reach.

“With that kind of a goal,” Nelson said, “they probably need to have as many teams as possible come in.”

One advantage Birkholz and Velasco do have, however, is a built-in network of FCCLA chapters at high schools in New Mexico and Texas.

“What’s really nice about all that is they can talk to groups in Hereford (Texas) or Muleshoe,” Nelson said. “They have the same goal to be involved. Why not be involved in a youth-sponsored one? They have to want to do it, and their performance is going to be better than if they’re just drafted into something.”

For Birkholz and Velasco, the event has some meaning. A statistic the two mentioned was that one-third of Americans are affected by cancer, and both are part of that group. Birkholz just had a grandparent go through surgery for cancer, and Velasco lost a grandparent on each side of her family to cancer.

“I just saw how it had so much (of an) effect on people,” Velasco said. “When people had cancer, they felt so alone. That’s probably how my grandfather and grandmother felt. I wanted to go out and raise money so other people won’t have to go through the things my family went through.”

The relay’s designation as an all-youth event, Nelson said, means the entertainment will likely be geared to high school and junior high students, and that students likely will not be able to enter or leave the relay without parental consent.

For information on the relay, contact the PHS FCCLA chapter at 356-5831, ext. 33.