ELIZABETH, NJ – Some were there because they felt it was a good cause, others because it hit close to home, but 238 Upper Academy students were ready to Relay for Life, March 18-19.

Relay for Life is a national fundraiser for cancer research where teams take turns walking a track overnight. TAPinto supported the project by being its media sponsor. This is the first year the event has been held at Elizabeth High School. “The students came up with the idea,” explained Principal Michael Cummings. “They wanted to do something and chose this project.”

To participate, each student had to raise $100. By the start of the relay, they raised nearly $25,000. “They are excited about it because it is their first year,” said Alice Debowski, an economics teacher and one of the event’s 35 chaperones. “It is hard for a school to start something new, but I feel these students really rally around, so it is not so surprising that they really put everything into it.”

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For seniors Hammad Akbar, Oscar Varnos, and Joao Vieira, members of the Cancer & Furious team, the relay was a good cause. For Karla Amdeli, it was personal. “My dad had cancer, so this really hit close to home,” she said. “I was so young and couldn’t really help, so this is my way of helping.”

Walking with the students were a number of cancer survivors and their family and friends. Survivor Steven Evangelista, the assistant coordinator for the Future Leaders program, was there with his friend Azalea Brazero who was “supporting him all the way.” Her mother, Nellie Gonzalez-Brazero, a stroke survivor was there, too. “I know what it is like to feel like you have support.”

The teams were sent off at a rally where they heard from Mayor Christian Bollwage, Principal Cummings, among others, but it was teary eyed Board of Education President Charlene Bathelus who tugged everyone’s heart strings. “I am a caretaker,” she said, wiping her eyes with a tissue. “My father has cancer. Only a survivor knows what we go through every, every day. I am here to thank all of you for what you are doing. I really had to be here. Whether you know someone or not, what you are doing affects a community.”

As she left the stage, she was greeted by a standing ovation from all 238 students, their families, and friends.