Pep rally held to kick off 2006 Relay for Life

LAWRENCEVILLE - Raising money to find a cure for cancer is their main goal and Thursday afternoon, clad in purple shirts, Relay for Life volunteers kicked off 2006 in classic pep rally style.

Purple and white balloons bobbed in the wind outside Berkmar High School and the "boom-boom" of the marching band made its way outside despite thick gym walls.

Inside, volunteers and participants of Relay for Life, the largest cancer research fundraising event sponsored by the American Cancer Society, helped organize teams and collected donations for this year's May event.

When Gwinnett County residents banded together 13 years ago and formed Relay for Life teams, they exceeded expectations by raising more than $100,000 and shooting up the list as top fundraising team in the nation.

In 2006, Gwinnett County's Relay for Life is legendary. The county holds the No. 1 position in the world both in attendees and money raised. Last year's total hit $2.2 million but this year the teams are shooting for $2.5 million.

"I didn't know Gwinnett was not a big part of Atlanta but actually in the suburbs," said Dr. Fred Worsham, chairman of the American Cancer Society South Atlantic Division. "It's great to be here with a legend. It looks like an amazing crowd - the largest relay."

Thursday was Worsham's first time visiting the county extensively.

After performances by Berkmar's marching band, cheerleaders and step team, the top 50 local Relay teams of 2005 and three national teams were honored with a standing ovation. To make it in the top 50, teams are required to raise at least $11,000.

Kicking off this year's fundraising was Scientific-Atlanta, whose senior vice president of finance and operations, Wallace Haislip, announced a donation of $50,000.

Nationally, there are 2,500 relay events held throughout the year, attracting almost 1.5 million participants. Relay for Life is the largest annual fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.

Relays are held in parking lots, fairgrounds, fields and tracks at 4,500 sites around the world. This year's Relay for Life will be May 12-13 at Gwinnett County Fairgrounds.

The American Cancer Society is the largest nongovernment-funded cancer research in the country and the world's wealthiest nonprofit.

"It's one of the most credible organizations because of the low percentage of money used for fundraising," Worsham said. "They use the money wisely and we have lots of volunteers. Sixty percent of the money raised comes back to the division for which it was raised."

More than 30 Nobel Prizes have been awarded to scientists seeking a cure for cancer using money allocated to them by the American Cancer Society. This year the society celebrates its 60th anniversary.