People Helping People: Celebrating 15th year of Relay for Life in Gwinnett County

Success lives here in a community united by a common bond to eliminate cancer; a unity that exhibits a sense of community like no other in the world - literally.

The 15th annual Relay For Life season has begun.

Gwinnett Relayers have already launched fundraising efforts to raise money for research, early detection and prevention, and patient service programs in the fight against cancer. Relay teams from schools, churches, businesses and civic organizations are raising funds in creative and fun ways throughout the year. Their efforts produce more than just funds. Relationships are built as cancer stories are shared, serving as the tie that binds our community together. This passion and dedication has fueled Gwinnett's fight for the past 14 years.

This year, as we celebrate our 15th Relay anniversary in Gwinnett, Relay teams will surpass the $20 million mark in funds raised since its inception. In addition to funding research, their efforts have provided for funding and volunteer support of education and patient programs.

As newly diagnosed individuals visit the Gwinnett office for patient services, we invite them to become a part of Gwinnett's Relay family - a family of more than 8,000 members who work all year to raise funds and awareness. We invite them because we want them to realize they are not alone in their journey, they live in a community that has taken up the fight, and within their community are thousands of cancer patients who have survived.

On May 9 and 10, the Relay family will converge on the Gwinnett County fairgrounds for the annual overnight community celebration of survivorship and support. Thousands of survivors will be in attendance in celebration of their lives and to give courage and hope to newly diagnosed individuals.

The event begins with Relay participants lining the track and applauding more than 2,000 survivors and their caregivers as they walk a "victory lap" in celebration of survivorship.

After the Survivors' Lap, each team is responsible for having a team member walk the track throughout the duration of the event. This overnight walk symbolizes that cancer doesn't sleep, and for this special night, the community stays awake walking in support of those who battle the disease 24 hours a day.

As night falls, a luminary ceremony is held as a time of remembrance and reflection. Bagpipers play, walking the track lined with glowing luminaries purchased in honor and memory of those who have suffered from this devastating disease. Participants will follow behind carrying radiant candles. This sea of light prompts a time of quiet reflection - so quiet that all you will hear is the shuffling of feet and the sounds of outpouring emotions that promote healing within our hearts. The luminaries light the track for team members until the morning light.

We invite you to join Gwinnett's Relay family in celebrating survivorship, remembering those who have suffered, and pledging to continue the fight until cancer is no more.

For more information about Relay For Life of Gwinnett, visit www.gwinnettrelayforlife.org.

"People Helping People" is a weekly column written by the executive directors of nonprofit organizations in Gwinnett County. Today's column was written by Linda Story of Gwinnett Relay for Life.