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West Hollywood to team up against cancer

By Aaron Blevins, 2/07/2013

City’s first-ever Relay for Life kickoff event is tonight


For the first time ever, West Hollywood will be hosting its own Relay for Life, an American Cancer Society (ACS) fundraising event to honor cancer survivors, remember lost loved ones and fight back against the disease.

Relay for Life’s luminaria ceremony honors people who are battling or have battled cancer. (photo courtesy of Relay for Life)

The Relay will likely be held in May, but efforts are underway now to encourage participation and raise money. In fact, the “Relay for Life of West Hollywood Kickoff Party” will be held at 5:30 p.m. today at The Capital Grille, 8614 Beverly Blvd.

Relay for Life manager Dana Waldrop said ACS opted to host the event in West Hollywood after residents requested it. She said the event goes where the community interest is, and local volunteers steer the fundraiser from there.

“Each Relay is customized for its community. …The West Hollywood Relay is going to be so much fun,” Waldrop said.

Relay for Life started in 1985, when a doctor in Washington state decided to run and walk around a track for 24 hours to raise money for ACS. The next year, hundreds of people joined him, and the event spread to other communities.

Now, communities across the country participate in the fundraiser, which is the largest in the U.S., Waldrop said. It is community-driven, so a local resident is appointed as the event chair, and various entities create teams to raise money and host other, smaller fundraisers for ACS in anticipation of the Relay.

During the Relay, which is a 24-hour event, teams camp out overnight and take turns walking or running around the track, with at least one member on the track at all times. The idea is to show that cancer never sleeps.

Cancer survivors participate for free and are honored during the event, as are the lives of those who succumbed to the disease. During each Relay, organizers hold a luminaria ceremony, in which participants light candles in decorated paper bags to remember lost loved ones.

“It’s a great visual image for people to take away with them,” Waldrop said. “It’s very empowering to see everybody take out their bags with candles lit and realize that everyone’s kind of in the battle together.”

Organizers also raise money on site during the Relay, and sponsorships play a significant role in the event. Officials also pass out information on cancer prevention and raise awareness of the disease.

In all, the Relays are generally uplifting, yet sobering. Waldrop said she originally became involved with Relay for Life as a volunteer, and she was drawn to the relationships and interactions she had with other people. She said it is awe-inspiring to see hundreds of survivors walking on a track to prove that cancer isn’t a death sentence.

“It’s almost hard to describe unless people experience it,” Waldrop said. “It’s really something to experience.”

She said West Hollywood has had four teams sign up thus far. One team, created by indoor cycling studio Cycle House, held a fundraiser on Jan. 26 with TV host and actress Stacy Kiebler that raised $1,200.

“It was a great start for West Hollywood,” Waldrop added.

Cycle House owner Lara Gillman said ACS approached the business about participating in this year’s Relay, and the management was happy to oblige. She said the event falls in line with the business’ goals of promoting healthy lifestyles and helping charities.

“We felt that it was something that was very on-brand with us,” Gillman said, adding that she was honored that ACS thought of Cycle House. “We really, really wanted to be a part of it. So far, we’ve seen a huge outpouring of support. …It’s fantastic. We like to do what we can. We always believe every little bit helps.”

Additional participation is requested. West Hollywood residents are invited to sign up as participants, teams or survivors, and local organizers need additional committee members as well. This year’s event chair is Owen Ward, the owner of Off World Entertainment.

“We are proud to chair the first Relay for Life in West Hollywood this year,” Ward said. “Our mission is to bring important causes to light, and we are thrilled to work with the American Cancer Society to promote its crucial work to treat and end cancer.”

Waldrop said organizers are hoping to hold the Relay on May 18 at West Hollywood Park, though that has yet to be confirmed.

For information, visit www.relayforlife.org/westhollywoodca or send an e-mail to dana.waldrop@cancer.org.

While West Hollywood is hosting a Relay for the first time, other events are scheduled around the local area. The Relay for Life of Hollywood will be held on July 26 at Helen Bernstein High School, 1309 Wilton Place. For information, visit www.relayforlife.org/hollywoodca. The Relay for Life of Miracle Mile will be held on June 8 at Larchmont Village, 600 S. McCadden Place. For information, visit www.relayforlife.org/miraclemileca.



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