Tillsonburg's 2016 Relay for Life will have a new home.
After 14 years at Annandale School, the venue for the Friday, June 3rd Relay has been changed – almost at the last minute – to the Tillsonburg Fairgrounds (Memorial Park).
And that's not the only change for this year's Relay. Tillsonburg's Jami Stephenson and Aleksandra Webber have stepped up as co-chairs, filling a role left by 2015 co-chairs Julie Dawley and Devona Allin, who replaced Steve Kyle, chairperson for the first 13 years of the event which has raised approximately $2.5 million since its inception.
In their role as new co-chairs, Stephenson and Webber were relieved to learn last week the fairgrounds had been accepted as a suitable replacement location.
"They've been in talks with Annandale (TVDSB) since December trying to work out a way for us to still be there," said Stephenson. "But it wasn't going to work."
Because Relay for Life requires setting up in advance of the 5 p.m. supper and 6 p.m. opening ceremonies and Survivor Lap, the fenced in yard for the newly expanded JK-8 school, including the track area, would not have been available to students during school hours on June 3rd. That was a hurdle that could not be overcome.
"With tents, a stage, it's just not a safe place for young kids to be," said Stephenson.
They found out on April 7th that 'Relay' was without a home. Working with Rick Cox, Director of Recreation, Culture and Parks, and Tillsonburg Fair Board president Mike Dean, they were able to tentatively secure a new venue.
"Overnight, pretty much," said Webber.
"We looked at so many different options, at other ways trying to make it work," said Stephenson. "We looked at setting up at (adjacent) Maple Lane and just using the track, but it was too small to set everything up. And putting 600 people two-by-two or one-by-one through the gate... it just wasn't going to work. This is the only way it's going to work, at the Fairgrounds."
The Canadian Cancer Society ('corporate') gave its approval last week after receiving necessary 'Special Event' paperwork from the Town of Tillsonburg.
"They're sifting through it, but they okay'd a lot of the issues."
As a major fundraiser in the community, Stephenson said the goal is to make Relay for Life as cost-effective as possible. This year's target had earlier been set at $80,000.
"We try to get money to support those with cancer in our community, and for research, to find a cure or better help those living with it. So every dollar makes a difference."
Webber and Stephenson attended their first Relay for Life meeting in February, intending only to join as 'volunteers.' They learned there were several vacancies on the organizing committee.
"Entertainment, volunteers, food, Survivor registration. There were a lot of empty seats. So we took on co-chair and basically got all of our information in March. So really, we've been going at this for about a month-and-a-half now. And it's been a lot of work.
"We both sort of handle the sponsorship responsibilities, team recruitment – we've been doing a lot of that... entertainment, we've had to look into people for our entertainment. We are wearing many hats right now, so we are always looking for more volunteers. We need people to step up within our community.
"We know that Tillsonburg is passionate about helping out because we see that in our fundraising. But if we could have more people take on roles, and volunteer with our Relay, that would be awesome."
As a community, Tillsonburg is one of the highest per capita Relay for Life fundraisers.
"I think it's fifth in the province (per capita)," said Webber.
"Our town, per capita, raises that much money – and that is incredible," said Stephenson. "You can see the people are really compassionate and willing to give the money, but we need more people coming out and more people willing to help, volunteer."
"Willing to take specific jobs," Webber nodded.
"We do have some new faces taking on some of the roles, we've been able to recruit some people," said Stephenson.
Many of the planning decisions had already been made before they took on their roles, said Stephenson, so in some ways they are following a pre-mapped route.
"The difference this year will be the track," said Stephenson. "The set-up will be different. The fairboard president is helping us with entertainment, trying to get..."
"It will be different than what it was before," said Webber. "Because we don't want to let too much out, right?"
"We do have some things that are going to be a little different, that we haven't had in the past," Stephenson nodded.
One of their main tasks over the next five weeks will be getting people to go to the fairgrounds for Relay.
"Because for 14 years, people have always gone to Annandale. That will be a bit of a challenge for us. But I think (the fairgrounds) checked off all the boxes that we needed, as per corporate – parking, a track, electrical for entertainment, space for entertainment. We've got a beautiful pavilion for us to have our food. And more trees in the area."
As announced in February, Survivors do not have to pay registration fees to attend the event which honours cancer Survivors.
"If they just want to come as a Survivor, they don't have to pay," said Stephenson.
"Also new this year is individuals can be their own team," she added, noting formerly there was a minimum of 10 per team with a certain amount of money to raise. "Now, you can have a team as an individual, or you can have four or five, whatever. There is no set amount you have to have."
Only a portion of the former horse track will be used for Relay. The plan is to cut it in half, using the pathway between the two baseball diamonds. Luminaries will be set up to clearly mark the walking area.
"The children's area, the stage, those will be inside the baseball diamond closest to the pavilion."
The Tillsonburg Community Centre will be open until 9 p.m. for those wanting to use indoor washrooms, but outdoor portable washrooms will also be on site.
One of the arena pads will be available in case of inclement weather (thunder, lightning).
A team captains meeting will be held May 3rd at the Tillsonburg Curling Club, Concession Street East, starting at 7:30 p.m.
'Bank night' is May 31st, said Webber.
"When most of the money from the teams needs to be collected," said Stephenson. "Teams bring in their money before the Relay, that way there's not so much money on the day."