GREAT BARRINGTON — Three years ago, Monument Mountain Regional High School senior Carly Shafiroff began her personal crusade to raise money in the fight against cancer.
A freshman in 2013, she and several other students formed a fundraising team when the Relay for Life Berkshire County Central South relocated from Pittsfield to the secondary school in Great Barrington. She hopes to stay involved in the relay long after she graduates next Sunday.
Shafiroff was mainly motivated by her mother having successfully beat back Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, now in remission for 10 years.
Each year at Monument, the soon-to-be alum has seen student involvement grow often due to more students' families being touched by cancer. Between 15-20 young people will walk the Spartans track around the football field, with a care staying for the entire 20-hour event.
"We usually have a group that stays the night,"" she said. "[The relay] is a great way to end the school year."
Increased high school participation is one of several ways organizers have revitalized the 21st annual Relay for Life Berkshire County Central South starting 6 p.m. June 24 and ending 2 p.m. June 25. A multi-media blitz of lawn signs, print and radio ads, more live entertainment and a more uplifting closing ceremony are also expected to boost fundraising efforts, according to organizers.
The charitable happening already has 15 new teams of walkers and counting — surpassing the goal of 10 — with nearly $43,000 of the $110,000 goal already donated on behalf of the American Cancer Society, according Ray Gardino, relay co-leader with Terri Andersen.
ACS reports that more than 90 percent of funds collected from the relay will go toward programs, services and research in battling the disease
Gardino attributes the good head start for this year's relay, compared over the previous three, to improved publicity, as participation has dropped off a bit after the fundraiser moved from Pittsfield to Great Barrington in 2013.
"We focused on heavy promotion through very visible road signs, print and radio media and have engaged the community," he said. "Our Relay Sign which has been displayed on six screens of The Beacon Cinema [in Pittsfield] since May 19."
The Relay for Life of Berkshire County Central South was originally held at Wahconah Regional High School in Dalton, shifted to Burbank Park at Onota lake in Pittsfield, before heading further south three years ago.
Organizers found many of the Pittsfield area participants didn't follow the fundraiser to South Berkshire, in part leading to the decline. Already 36 teams of the 42 teams targeted by organizers have signed up, totalling 266 individuals.
A student relay team from Pittsfield High School is among the newcomers, lead by seniors Emma and Jacob Lezberg. The twins' family has been involved with the American cancer Society for years as they have a grandfather who has defeated lymphoma three times and in February, their mother officially became a breast cancer survivor.
"We were lucky it was Stage 1 [breast cancer,]" Emma said.
"Beating cancer is one thing, knowing it's part of the rest of your life, is another," noted Jacob.
The drop-off in participation aside, the relay moving to Monument has helped reduced costs of staging the event thanks to the amount of time and services donated by school staff, according to organizer Jim Andersen.
"One reason for doing it at Monument is they give us so much, use of their bathrooms, maintenance and more," he said.
Other significant changes to this years relay, include a pancake breakfast from 7-10 a.m. on Saturday that's open to the public, scheduled performances of seven individual musical acts and bands and several inspirational speakers during the closing ceremony.
Organizers hope revamping the relay leads to increased repeat participation — especially from the new teams — in 2017 and beyond.
"Once people first come to experience the relay, it's pretty awesome and many come back," Andersen said.
Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233