The Relay for Life of Santa Clarita, hosted by the American Cancer Society, returned to an in-person event Saturday with more than 500 people attending throughout the day and fundraising for a cure for cancer.
“We are trying to save lives, celebrate lives and lead the fight for a world without cancer,” said Brad Peach, one of four event co-chairs who was also in charge of the mission booth, which focused on sharing ACS’ mission: finding a cure for cancer.
The family-friendly event featured live entertainment, games, raffle drawings, a space camp for kids — following the theme “No Space for Cancer” — a car show, relays and, the luminaria, a ceremony to honor those who have died from cancer. The event was held Saturday at the Westfield Valencia Town Center mall, in the parking lot of the former Sears building.
Entertainment included the bands Future X Husbands, CRV and Doc Rogers, and other performers such as Innovation Show Choir, Saugus Show Choir and the dance performance groups SCV Hula and New World Dance.
UCLA Health Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center was the presenting sponsor, and Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital joined them as a gold sponsor. Organizers hoped to raise $225,000 by the end of the year, and after Relay for Life, they raised $114,000 — a little more than halfway to their goal, according to event co-chair Leslie Borgen.
“We still have until the end of the year,” Borgen said. “We have a few events that are coming up. We got a holiday boutique in November. We plan to do a special event in December. And the teams are going to continue to relay through the end of the year. We hope that the momentum kicks in now.”
Over the past 23 years, Santa Clarita residents raised nearly $8 million to support cancer research and services for patients and their families, according to a prepared statement from the organizers.
The day’s agenda included the survivor lap honoring cancer survivors and caretakers. Attendees like Lisa Welch, 50, of Castaic, who came to support her friend Heidi Voll, 59, a breast cancer survivor, appreciated the sense of love and community at the event.
“It’s something that the community should be very proud of and something that everybody should participate in and support,” Voll said. “Cancer touches everybody. (You either) know someone, or if it’s not your immediate family, you know a friend of a friend, and so it’s very important to know that the community supports you and that you’re not alone.”
Many high school students were in attendance at the Relay for Life, including Courtney Thomas, 16, of Sand Canyon, a Canyon High senior who volunteered to help with the event.
“I’ve actually been working with the American Cancer Society all year to help plan for the relay, and I’m here because I’ve lost my grandma and my great-grandpa to cancer,” Thomas said. “It’s important that we can spread awareness and to have an event where everyone can come together and kind of mourn together. It brings a certain amount of strength to the community.”
Thomas added that she volunteered at the luminary booth, where people could stop by and purchase a bag and decorate it in honor of a loved one they’ve lost.
“We get to talk to them while they decorate, and I’ve heard some pretty cool stories about survivors and loved ones,” Thomas said.
At the end of the night, the luminaria ceremony began. Participants walked a silent lap around the track surrounded by luminaria bags, purchased for a $10 donation.
“The most important part of tonight is right now, for luminaria. That is our most special event,” Borgen said. “We get a chance to recognize everybody.”
Borgen, a 10-year survivor, said she walks the track during the luminaria portion of the event every year. The walk is a personal experience for her— she lost most of her immediate family to various forms of cancer.
“I’m the only one left. Right over there is my immediate family,” Borgen said while pointing toward a section of the parking lot where she placed several bags. “This is our way to say, ‘We love you. We still remember you, and you will always be in our hearts.’”