WAYNE, NJ – For the Thirteenth year in a row, Wayne has launched its Relay For Life fundraising season in preparation for the main event to be held on May 16 at Wayne Valley High School.  The season began with a kickoff celebration held at the Commons at Wayne Hills High School where the students announced a fundraising goal of over $100K.

“The Kickoff event is happening to make the community aware what Relay For Life is, what our mission and goals are, and educate the community on how they can participate in the fight against cancer,” said Cori Mastropolo, the American Cancer Society representative to the entirely student-run Wayne Relay committee. “The amount of people that come to Wayne’s Relay year after year is rewarding and overwhelming. It is one of the largest high school relay events in New Jersey with roughly 1,000 participants.”

Every year, one student from each high school is selected as an 'Event Lead.' This year the leads are Kyla Gallipoli from Wayne Hills and Louis Messercola from Wayne Valley. The two were the co-leads from last year's event.

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“Kyla and I have been involved in Relay since Eighth Grade, but we’ve been going since before then,” said Messercola.

“When I was in Fourth Grade, my Mom was diagnosed with an early stage of breast cancer,” said Gallipoli. “Thankfully, she ended up being okay. But ever since then I began getting involved with different forms of breast cancer walks. Then we found Relay For Life when a sister of a friend of ours was diagnosed with DIPG, which is a form of brain cancer. Lily LaRue Anderson passed when she was six years old, and she is the reason why Louis and I became involved.”

The two student leaders chose three others to be this year’s co-leads. They are Julia La Sala, Bridget Gonzalez, and Leah Caruso. “They will help us with decision-making and give us somebody to lean on, since we do lean on each other quite a bit,” said Gallipoli.

Over eighty other student volunteers from both high schools will also help run this year’s program and complete the committee.

“The kickoff is to start the fundraising season and make sure everyone knows the details of the event, the date, the time, to start coordinating teams and when fundraisers are going to happen," said Messercola. "We wanted everyone to come meet me and Kyla and the entire committee and show them basically what Relay is all about and what’s going to happen in May.”

The night started with an introduction of the five lead students who each had an opportunity to speak and welcome everyone to the event. This year’s Boardwalk/Beach theme was announced with the main slogan ‘Wave Goodbye to Cancer.’

Wayne Mayor Chris Vergano took to the microphone next. “Unfortunately, cancer has touched all of us in some way,” he said. “It is very impressive, year after year to watch our students from Wayne Hills and Wayne Valley organize and execute this amazing event.”

Following the Mayor, Wayne resident Stacy Sanchez, DNP, RN, MBA, CPN, NEA-BC, CENP and Director of Nursing, Pediatrics and Critical Care Services for Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center spoke, talking about some ways that donated money is used during the cancer treatment process.

“Some of the funds raised for cancer programs help to make sure that parents of kids with cancer don’t have to worry about the cost of staying in the city, or for parking or food while they are at Sloan Kettering for weeks receiving treatment,” said Caruso. “That’s one of the things that the American Cancer Society does; they create programs that support the families during treatment.”

Only three adults participate in the organization of the event each year, but they only take charge of one small part: The Survivor Tent on the day of the event. They were introduced next: Karen Marron, Darlene Bunker and Carrie Fohlinger, who is a breast cancer survivor.

“The three of us has been chairing that piece of the event for the last nine years,” said Marron. “During the day of Relay, we have a nice area where the Survivors can get out of the sun; we have food and refreshments for them. We try to pamper them because they are the reason we’re there. We’re celebrating them.”

The fundraising activities began that night with baskets of goodies that were raffled off including a Dunkin Donuts basket, a basket full of lottery tickets and another included passes to the Tom’s Lake facility in Wayne.

“Although we couldn’t offer a trip to Point Pleasant to match our beach theme, we tried for the Tom’s Lake passes and the Mayor graciously donated them,” said Hillary Caruso, mother of Leah, one of the co-leads. “He always does a great job of helping us out no matter what we ask for.”

Mike Rewick, the principal of Wayne Hills won the Tom’s Lake basket.

That evening there was a bake sale with goods baked by the students, there were carnival games and a whole lot of good energy.

Last year the Relay had a board game theme. This year, Gallipoli and Messercola chose the Boardwalk/Beach theme to make it easier to keep it fun.  

“This year’s relay, we wanted to do something a little different,” said Messercola. “Given our theme, we’re going to have a bunch of boardwalk carnival games, a dunk tank, henna tattoos, and food trucks.  We’ll have volleyball and soccer games set-up, too.”

When asked how the committee plans to reach its $100K goal, Messercola answered: “We’ll be raising money all throughout the season, for example on January 22, we are having a fundraiser at Chipotle in the Willowbrook Mall, and a Panera fundraiser in February with other restaurants in the Spring. We’ll be doing a car wash this year, and we’ll be doing what we call ‘canning’ outside local stores, just asking for donations.  There will be many other opportunities to raise money and try to reach our goals.”

Gallipoli added: “We are looking to expand something we did at JFK last year with Hillary Caruso’s help. It’s called ‘Relay Recess.’ Which is pretty much a mini-field day at the elementary schools where the kids get to go outside and play different carnival games and activities to raise money for Relay throughout the day.”

Hillary Caruso is a teacher at JFK and is always touched by the dedication of the students.

“It really is a great thing to watch these kids do it all,” she said. “They are really special kids because it’s hard for adults to take the time out of their own busy lives, and it’s probably even harder for a high school student to do it. So, for them to sacrifice a lot of their free time to raise money for some other people that they don’t know, it’s truly wonderful to see”

“I’m always impressed by our high school students and what they do each year at this event,” said Vergano. “I would encourage all Wayne residents to get involved and participate in this very worthy cause.”

The Wayne Town Council’s newest member, Fran Ritter was in attendance. “It's heartwarming to witness firsthand the dedication of our High School students to this student-led fundraising effort to fund cancer research,” she said. “I lost both my mom and dad to cancer in the last two years, so I wish our students great success in recruiting the Wayne community's help to meet, if not surpass, their $100,000 fundraising goals.”

Though Relay for life is not a school-sanctioned event, it is definitely school-supported.

Cathy Kazan, the new Wayne Board of Education President said: “Relay For Life is so much more than a fundraiser.  It is the culmination of months of work toward a goal that will end in one of the most moving community events of the year. I encourage everyone to get involved. This teaches our students so much, and they take away skills and lessons that will enrich them for a lifetime.  The Board of Education and our school community supports this program wholeheartedly." 

The kickoff ended with a Luminaria ceremony with dozens of bags lit with tea lights arrayed on the bleachers of the Wayne Hills gym spelling out the word ‘HOPE.’  This ceremony will pale in comparison to the amazing Luminaria display that will happen the night of the Relay on May 16.

“I am very impressed with the turnout we have here tonight and the money we raised at this event,” said Gallipoli. “I think that’s a good sign of the season we have ahead of us. So, I’m positive and optimistic that we will be able to raise over $100,000 this year.”

The group raised $874 in total during the kickoff on Wednesday night.

Last year, the total money raised for the entire Relay season was around $95,000, according to Gallipoli.

For more information or to sign up for a team, or to create your own team, click here: https://secure.acsevents.org/site/STR?pg=entry&fr_id=9565