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Unique events bring camaraderie to Relay fundraising

Staff Photo: John Bohn North Gwinnett High School students Kate McHugh, 17, left, Camayah Percival 14, center, and Lauren Dodd, 18, right, paint a large scale reproduction of the Chrysler building for Relay for Life.

Staff Photo: John Bohn North Gwinnett High School students Kate McHugh, 17, left, Camayah Percival 14, center, and Lauren Dodd, 18, right, paint a large scale reproduction of the Chrysler building for Relay for Life.

Relay By The Numbers

$119, 926 - Money raised by Gwinnett'd Relayers two decades ago

$1.87 million - Money donated to American Cancer Society by Relayers last year

260 - Number of teams participating

5,947 - Participants that make up those teams

$897,358.93 - Money raised this year (as of May 1)

$80,000 - Money raised so far by top team, North Gwinnett High School, who totaled donations at $107,000 last year.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn North Gwinnett High School students Danielle Gordon, 16, left, and Megan Jordan, 17, right, paint a large piece of artwork for Relay for Life.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn North Gwinnett High School students Amanda Shimman, 17, second from left, Juliana Guan, 17, center, and Brenna Farrell, 18, right, create large scale artwork for Relay for Life.

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Special Photo Sage Software, one of the top corporate teams, used a pancake breakfast as a fundraiser for its Relay for Life team. Organizers have said unique fundraising ideas help generate interest and momentum for the event.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn North Gwinnett High School students Amanda Shimman, 17, left, and Brenna Farrell, 18, right, create artwork for Relay for Life.

SUWANEE -- The key to a million-dollar fundraising campaign is getting people involved. And while participants range from students to company executives, almost everyone enjoys an entertaining carnival, neon prom, juggling act or pancake breakfast.

Organizers of the teams that are at or near the top of Gwinnett County's Relay for Life fundraising lists, such as North Gwinnett High School and Sage Software, said having people around their organization at multiple levels sustain momentum through the fundraising cycle is the key to their fundraising.

The ideas, ways and projects teams use to raise money are as varied as the 260 Relay teams in Gwinnett.

There are teams that rent parking spaces for yard sales, put on school 5Ks, pageants and "mangeants" and bracelets. North Gwinnett puts on a popular event called "MORP," which is prom spelled backwards, and tickets to the casual dance where attendees wear neon shirts are $10. It brings in about $8,000.

"A simple fundraiser like baked goods doesn't make much, but the MORP is new and trendy, so people will pay money to go to that, and it goes to the cause so people think it's worth it," North junior Cherie Yoo said. "It's awesome, whoever created these ideas are awesome."

All in the name of fighting cancer and finding a cure.

"When teachers and club sponsors and coaches are passionate about something, the kids get excited about it," said Colette Grodzicki, a team captain and English teacher. "And then it becomes a thing, and you don't want to be the one that is not participating."

Along with the MORP, the Miss Suwanee pageant annually is one of North's largest fundraisers at about $15,000.

The North Gwinnett chapter this year also added a fashion show called "Catwalk for a Cure" and a Powder Puff football game for about 20 junior and senior girls, co-team captain McCall Grosso said.

In the workplace, participation often leads to camaraderie, a greater sense of sense of community and an overall positive impact on the organization.

Jennifer Warawa, a vice president for partner programs and channel sales at Sage North America, said last year's team had less than 10 members, but this year counts more than 60. That jump in membership has helped Sage raise its fundraising total from $3,000 last year to $18,000 so far this year.

"You need an internal champion to get everybody excited, to step forward early on," Warawa said. "They're people that get everybody excited and are helpful for recruiting and keeping people excited throughout the entire process."

Warawa said the sales team donated its entire spiff bonuses for December to three charities, including Relay. About that same time, a companywide bake sale led employees to build entire trays of baked goods for Christmas gifts.

Sage also held a silent auction for Christmas decorations after the holidays. Employees donated gifts, which helped get rid of clutter. Their pancake breakfast also featured deliveries to employees' desks.

At North, the school's Relay chapter has evolved into a community effort, including percentage nights at local businesses, and it has grown from $6,000 raised during the 2008-09 school year, to $107,000 raised last year. The chapter has raised about $80,000 this year, ahead of last year's pace, Grodzicki said.

"We can do teachers doing penny wars, but the real student buy-in is the students actually getting to do something and knowing it's for a cure," McCall said. "That's one of the reasons the MORP has been so successful is it may not even be a kid that would normally go to a dance, but they know it's for a good cause, and hey, it's $10."