By Steve Grant
The annual Relay for Life campaign for the American Cancer Society is a big nationwide effort raising millions for cancer research. What you might not know is that one of the Relay for Life programs, based in the Farmington Valley, is one of most successful in the country.
Devonwood is well represented.
This year’s event was held during May at the Farmington Polo Grounds, and 67 students from Devonwood were among the approximately 1,800 student participants from towns in the valley. The idea of the relay is that for 24 hours, some participants are always walking on a 1/4-mile track, replaced by other participants in relay style. Easily 100 students are walking at any given time throughout the day, some of them high school age, walking in the hours after midnight.
The relay involves students from grade 5 through high school.
Among the participants was Halley Dopp, who graduated from Farmington High last month and lives on Belgravia Terrace. Halley, who played tennis at FHS for four years, walked a marathon at the event, 26.2 miles, well over 100 laps of the track. Her sister, Delaney, in the seventh grade at Irving Robbins School, also participates.
Halley has been involved for years, saying she became especially motivated when, in eighth grade, a close friend was diagnosed with cancer. “It is important to me,” Halley said. “I make the time for it. The event is always exciting.”
One of the three chairs of the event is Harvey Dutil, who lives on Norfolk Gardens in Devonwood. He is a retired former principal at Noah Wallace School and the West District Elementary School. Dutil oversees recruiting student teams and team retention year to year.
The event “brings communities together to remember loved ones lost, honor survivors of all cancers, and raise money to help the American Cancer Society make a global impact on cancer,” he said.
The Farmington Valley event raised an impressive $488,000 this year, a figure that may actually exceed $500,000 once some corporate matching contributions are tallied, Dutil said.
“We’ve become one of the most successful ones in the country,” he said. Last year the local event raised $479,000, ranking it 14th best among some 5,000 local campaigns throughout the country, some of them encompassing huge areas, including the city of Los Angeles or Dade County, FL. It also was the highest fund-raising total of 215 events in New England.
The event is not a competition, but the results nonetheless amount to a kind of recognition for superior performance.
In addition to all the student teams, more than 100 cancer survivors attend the event, along with nearly 1,000 chaperones. “We require two chaperones per team at all times,” Dutil said. A team can be five to 15 students.
One of the special moments of the event each year is the survivor lap, in which the cancer survivors, wearing purple shirts, walk the track as the student teams and other participants cheer them on.
“That is the most moving and interesting part of the day,” Halley Dopp said. “Teams pull banners out. We clap for them, we cheer for them.”
This story appeared in the July 2017 edition of Neighborhood Living