WAYNE, NJ – Every year, for thirteen years in a row, high school students from both Wayne Hills and Wayne Valley have joined forces to organize and host the annual Wayne Relay For Life American Cancer Society fundraising event. This one-day, all-day event is traditionally held at the school’s football field and is attended by hundreds of people who gather in a carnival-like atmosphere to Celebrate, Remember and Fight Back against cancer. Each year the goal is to raise at least $100,000 for the fight against cancer.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, this goal is in jeopardy.
Kyla Gallipoli of Wayne Hills High School and Louis Messercola of Wayne Valley High School have been friends since they were young and began participating in Relay when they were in seventh grade. In their freshmen year, the two began volunteering on the organization committee and together they made a goal to lead the committee their senior year. Because of their dedication, intelligence and personalities, the dream was realized this January when they were chosen as the leads.
Two months of hard work followed as they planned the event along with the other members of the committee and began to raise money.
Then a new and deadly virus turned into a global pandemic and fell on New Jersey so hard, that Governor Murphy was forced to put the state on lockdown and order all gatherings canceled.
Gallipoli and Messercola were afraid that the goal they had set four years ago and worked so hard to achieve was going to dissipate in front of their eyes.
“Louis and I have been working for so long, so it was really disappointing,” said Gallipoli. “We’d always been looking forward to finally being able to run the event ourselves.”
But the two leaders didn’t give up. Along with all of the other student volunteers, they showed their true Wayne grit and perseverance and would not back down from this new challenge.
“Relay for Life has three core philosophies,” said Messercola. “Celebrate, Remember and Fight Back. We celebrate those who have survived cancer, we remember those who have not, and we pledge to continue to fight cancer.”
Gallipoli and Messercola have been affected by cancer, having had friends and family members die from the deadly disease. So, there was no way they would back down from this fight even in the face of a global pandemic.
“We need to look at what’s still happening and what’s still important,” said Messercola. “People are being diagnosed with cancer and those people are even more susceptible to coronavirus because they are immunocompromised, so there’s even more reason to move forward and work hard to make this event a success.”
Galipoli added: “For cancer patients, the coronavirus is changing the way some of them are getting treated and whether they have access to healthcare. So, it’s very important that we keep fighting so that their essential resources do not go away. That’s what’s driving our mission.”
The high school committee was forced to become creative and they decided to take the one-day event and turn it into a week-long virtual event.
Relay For Life usually begins with an opening ceremony which is then followed by individuals and teams walking laps on the high school track all day and long into the night. Some relay participants will have people who pledge amounts based on the number of laps a person or team does.
While this is happening, any cancer survivors present are recognized and celebrated. In the evening, when the sun sets, Luminaria bags are lit to represent those who have died of cancer. These bags are purchased and dedicated as another way to raise funds. The hundreds of bags contain small candles that light up the track and are arranged to spell out messages like ‘Hope.’
At the end, all are encouraged to pledge to continue to fight cancer.
This year, all of this will be done online in virtual events.
On Tuesday, May 12 at 4:00 p.m. the opening ceremony video will be posted on the group’s social media sites, and everyone is encouraged to watch and share.
“We will encourage people to share short videos of them explaining why they participate in Relay For Life,” said Messercola. “Then we will edit these all together and use them in the final video on the last day.”
All Day, Wednesday, May 13, is ‘Join The Wave’ day. “We are going to be emulating the part of the event where you are walking around the track,” said Gallipoli. “So, we are encouraging everyone to go outside and walk around and be active. People will be participating in different challenges, for example some people will be doing ten pushups for every $10.00 that is donated. This will encourage not only donations, but the fitness component as well.”
May 14 is Survivor Day. “We’ll be posting videos, pics and stories of people who have survived cancer and celebrating that they are still with us,” said Messercola.
Luminaria Day is Friday, May 15. The day's focus is about remembering those who have died from cancer.
“Anyone can buy a bag for $10 from our website or Facebook page, Gallipoli said. “We will be dropping them off at people’s homes for them to decorate. Then we’ll ask everyone to share pictures of their decorated bags so we can repost them and also make a slide show.”
The final day is Fight Back Day on Saturday, May 16. “We reflect and remember our mission to fight back against cancer,” Messercola said.
The group will be showing a composite video of all the clips sent in by participants explain why they Relay and pledging to continue to fight against cancer.
All along the way there will be calls to donate to the American Cancer Society.
As of this writing, the group has raised: $39,118.48 which is a great accomplishment, but far below what has been raised in the past. With so many people out of work and a future so uncertain, as well as donations being made to help fight coronavirus, it is expected that the group’s result will be well below expectations.
Wayne Education Foundation President and advisor to the committee, Karen Marron is really proud of all the students who have worked to make this event happen.
“The whole committee, especially Kyla and Louis have been working so hard for months,” she said. “The event was coming together perfectly. Then the pandemic happened, and they were forced to change the entire focus and attempt to create a whole different Relay in the virtual world. They had to recreate the whole event and still raise money, which has become even harder because of the coronavirus. On top of this they had schoolwork to do.”
“So, I give them a lot of credit for still making this happen and making it a successful event for the town and for the American Cancer Society,” said Marron.
“Every single person knows someone who has had cancer and most people know someone who has died of cancer,” said Messercola. “It’s an important reminder to how devastating the disease is to the world and why it is so important to continue to fight.”
Keep an eye out for the opening video on May 12 at 4:00 p.m. and help these students make this event a success.