NUTLEY, NJ - Nutley’s 11th Annual Relay For Life kicked off on Thursday evening Feb. 2 at the Parks and Recreation Building on Park Avenue. The evening began with a video presentation reminiscing the last 10 years of fundraising for the American Cancer Society and the overnight spring Relay event.

While learning about Relay for Life, supporters enjoyed dinner donated by Ralph's Pizzeria. Fundraising in groups and as a whole will take place from this point with different activities leading up until the actual event at DeMuro Park on May 19 and 20, hosted by the Nutley Parks and Recreation Department.  

During the presentation this year’s Relay motto was unveiled “Hope Lives Here.” Inspiring songs were played throughout the video by Ultimate Entertainment DJ Rob Frannicola such as “Heroes (We Could Be),” “Brave” and “Better Place.”

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Parks and Recreation Commissioner Mauro G. Tucci announced last year Nutley raised $141,000. “The reason we are so successful, look to your left and to your right, because of you, we are successful,” he said. “For us this is not just another event. Why hope lives here, for us its very personal,” he continued.

Tucci spoke of his own experience with the disease telling the audience that his wife had thyroid cancer and is now cancer free.

According to Tucci over all Nutley raised one million dollars throughout the 10 years. “We raised a million, now we are onto the second million,” he stated. “Here in Nutley we have big hearts,” he added.

Cancer survivor Janet Halchak took to the podium and told of her experience. She spoke of the family and friends she lost to cancer.

“I don’t want to see anyone go through what I went through. It gives us hope. Because of the money raised and hope I am here to tell my story. A community that gives. You give me hope and the reason hope lives in Nutley,” she said.

Nutley “Angel” Dayna Hess addressed the crowd next. She expressed the importance of this event, how she lost her aunt and grandmother to lung cancer and that she is also a cancer survivor. “Luminarias will be lit to show those who lost the battle,” she said

“Cancer deaths decreased by 23 percent since 1991,” stated Hess. She then explained where the money raised with ACS goes. “S700 million went to cancer research, patient support and prevention. ACS provided rides to and from treatment,” she said.

Hess noted 1,200 families received free or reduced lunches at the Hope Lodge at NYC, NY to help the financial burden.

“Think about why you Relay, honor those fighting for cancer with laughing with friends,” she said. Hess concluded her speech quoting a verse of the song “Better Place” by Rachel Platten.

Team Ambassador Brenda Sherman asked the crowd “Are you ready to Relay?” Sherman is a past team captain, stating her fundraising experience.

“There is fun in fundraising,” she explained. Sherman noted the second “Bark for Life” fundraiser coming up on May 7.

Francesca Lentini, 16, approached the podium letting people know about her story. Lentini was diagnosed with Leukemia in the eighth grade. “I can finally say I’m cancer free. There was an obstacle I had to overcome,” Lentini continued. “Please come out to support those fighting their battle, so they can one day overcome,” she added.

Heather Soto, event chairwoman said she started to participate in Relay a month after she lost her father to cancer, noting he was only 56. She explained the challenges in being a caregiver but also expressed the importance. She noted these bonds and memories will last forever.

Austin DeSavino, Relay For Life community manager addressed the crowd of about 200, noting he was the only one from ACS. “All you are doing this,” he said.

DeSavino announced the top fundraisers from last year’s Relay, acknowledging the top three groups Nutley Parks and Rec, Hurts 4 a Cure and Annie’s Courage. All-star’s, people who raised $2,500 and above, were Anne Rotonda, Heather Soto, Dayna Hess and Billie Juiliano. There were 10 people who made the Grand Club raising $1000.

“[There are] already 52 teams created and 280 participants signed up as of tonight. The number will keep growing. There was 650 [people] at the end of the last year’s. People can register right up until the event day,” DeSavino told TAPinto.

Kevin Knight of the Independent Wrestling Federation and Golden Boy Michael Cammett added to the adrenaline of the night revving up the crowd. The duo posed with Nutley resident Amanda Silva, letting her hold the championship belt. Knight asked the crowd to snap a photo of the evening’s event and to tag it #NutleyRFL on Instagram and Twitter.

Knight then mentioned the upcoming April 8 event, the IWF’s Loud & Proud fundraiser for Relay For Life.

Glow-sticks were passed out to light as the room dimmed, honoring those that lost their battle.

Residents had the opportunity to sign-up and create teams there, as well as, purchase items for sale from those already registered. Team “Dancing in the Rain” was selling purple umbrellas at their table.

Frannicola then held games for those registered to put towards their goals. Dolores Nicastro, of Nutley, received $20 to put towards her team.

The next Relay event is Pasta/Bingo Night at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17 at the Recreation Department, 44 Park Ave.  Tickets are $20, make checks payable to Relay For Life/Nutley.  A snow date is set for Feb. 23.

For more information or to join the committee, contact Crissy Frusteri or Linda Hamilton at the Recreation Department 973-284-4966, between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. or visit 

TApinto is a sponsor of Relay for Life.