Relay for Life 6/8/18

Stephanie Sousa of Norton photographs memorials for close friends, Valerie Costantino and Lisa Secher, during last year’s Greater Attleboro Relay for Life.

If you stop by the Norton High School track Friday evening, you may be just as surprised by what you won’t see as by what you will see.

What you won’t see is the bitter divisiveness along political lines that dominates social media and has regrettably become a staple of everyday life in 2019.

But what you will see when you enter the track area should lift your spirits. That’s because you’ll see a few dozen campsites and hundreds of people of all ages walking around the track to raise money to fight cancer as the 21st annual Relay For Life of Greater Attleboro gets under way.

That sight should be the first of many moments that will renew your faith that, despite the bad behavior of and lack of leadership from Washington politicians, that Americans really do care a lot about each other.

Inspiration will flow from many things happening around the track. You will, for example, be inspired, first by a guest speaker who will share a personal story of fighting cancer, then by seeing cancer survivors, their families and caregivers walking the opening lap of the relay.

Not long after, you’ll feel better about people when you see those same survivors being treated to a full-course meal in the cafeteria of the high school; the meal will be sponsored by Waters Church and served by volunteers.

Later in the evening, the lighting of the traditional luminaries — candles lit in memory of cancer victims and in honor of cancer survivors — will send your spirits soaring and give you goosebumps.

So emotional is that scene that, when you see those survivors circling the track led by a lone bagpiper, you’ll understand why so many people have spent the last two decades bringing this signature fundraiser for the American Cancer Society to the Attleboro area.

This year’s event, which has an overall theme of “fun and games,” will include entertainment with a disc jockey, local bands and vocalists and other live presenters.

It also will include the participation in the opening and closing ceremonies of Boy Scout Troop 33 of North Attleboro.

Last year, the Greater Attleboro Relay For Life raised more than $140,000, and included 33 teams, 361 participants and 86 survivors. As of Wednesday, nearly $107,000 had been raised, while there were 30 teams, 275 participants and 44 survivors registered.

Why they relay

Typical of the motivation of many relay participants is this year’s chairwoman of the all-volunteer committee that plans the event, Barbara Benoit of Rehoboth. Benoit has not only been the longtime captain of the Carol and Margie’s Marchers team, which has been a part of the event since its earliest days, but she also was a member of the local committee years before taking on the leadership post for this relay.

Last year, in a column I wrote before the event, she shared how she first joined the relay, and why she’s been so dedicated to it.

“In 2000 (the relay’s second year in North Attleboro), I saw an article in The Sun Chronicle about the Greater Attleboro Relay and decided to start a team in memory of my mother, Margaret Gill. Our team was Margie’s Marchers until 2016, when my mother’s best friend, Carol Amirault, passed away, and we changed the name.”

She said that all these years later, she still participates in the relay “to try and make a difference so that someday, no one will hear the words ‘you have cancer.’ ”

That sentiment is typical of both returning participants and newcomers, but there are also many other factors that help explain why people remain so committed to this event. These 20 reasons to relay, which appeared on commemorative T-shirts to celebrate last year’s 20th anniversary of the Greater Attleboro event, provide more insight on why the event has endured:

1. To find a cure; 2. Give back to my community; 3. For friends and survivors; 4. To fight back; 5. To make new friendships; 6. To honor survivors; 7. In memory of loved ones; 8. So people don’t have to hear the words, “You have cancer;” 9. To raise awareness; 10. To fund research. 11. To support the mission; 12. For hope; 13. For the future; 14. To make a difference; 15. For the fun activities; 16. For the music; 17. For more birthdays; 18. To stand up for cancer; 19 For those who can’t; 20. For the memories.

Larry Kessler, a retired Sun Chronicle local news editor, is a member of the Relay For Life of Greater Attleboro’s volunteer committee and will be participating in his 20th relay June 14-15. He can be reached at lkessler1@comcast.net.

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