Teenage girl a key coordinator of annual Relay for Life

 In Blog

Note: This blog first appeared as an article in the Health section of the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

Heather Touchette, 18, of Ludlow is a member of the Event Leadership Team for the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life of Hampshire County.

Like other relay leaders, her work load is not light. In any given week, she’s apt to be recruiting and registering teams for the event, working on the set-up plan or helping with coordination for the fundraising group.

“She has also been there for whatever I needed as I progressed with the last two relays,” said Tom McCusker, coordinator for the event.

Touchette’s life was touched by cancer after her aunt, the late Gail Mainville of Holyoke, was diagnosed and treated for lung cancer while Touchette was in elementary school in 2005. Mainville lost her battle in 2007, and Touchette got involved with relay in 2013, offering to do whatever was needed.

The following September, Touchette joined the leadership committee after a friend spoke with enthusiasm about her own committee involvement. Touchette enjoys seeing just how many people come together, united by the same cause.

“I think the most rewarding thing about it is seeing the amount of people who are willing to help others,” Touchette said.

McCusker is pleased with Touchette’s work. His challenge is finding more volunteers like her.

This year, McCusker said leaders of the fundraiser for the American Cancer Society have made it a goal to ramp up recruitment of new volunteers and to have members step into leadership positions. Many volunteers, such as McCusker, have been at the work for many years. Janice has been overseeing the publicity for the event for several years now. New volunteers are desperately needed.

On the day of the Relay For Life event alone, 75 to 100 volunteers are needed, but there is much preparation to be done before the event, he said, so volunteers are needed now. More volunteers are needed now than in past years because the event is growing, and team participation is increasing.

In 2014, at the 18th annual relay, a total of 1,017 participants on 93 teams, including 214 survivors, took part, and a total of $234,504 was raised. The fundraising goal is $250,000 this year, and 105 teams are expected to take part.

“The number of planning members is decreasing,” says McCusker, “while the number of participants is increasing.”

Recruiting requires some finesse, McCusker said. One of the greatest challenges when trying to fill these roles is finding people with the right set of skills, but it’s a difficult balance to question volunteers to discern their skill-sets without intimidating or offending them.

“Recruiting has always been a passive process,” said McCusker. “This year we are trying to be more actively involved in our recruitment.”

Relay For Life is a 24-hour event that allows participants to celebrate the lives of people who have battled cancer, remember loved ones lost and fight back against the disease. This year’s relay will be held June 19-20 at Look Memorial Park in Florence; as it is each year, Cooley Dickinson Hospital is the event’s presenting sponsor.

During relay, teams of participants take turns walking on a temporary track to raise money for cancer research and programs that benefit cancer patients and their families.

To learn more, volunteer or donate, visit www.relayforlife.org/hampshirecountyma or email hamprelay@gmail.com

Tim Schreiner is a student at Westfield State University. He assists with publicity for Relay For Life of Hampshire County.

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