By Lisa Capobianco
With Relay for Life scheduled to kick off next week, teams throughout Southington are wrapping up their fundraisers in preparation of the annual event.
For members of the Jean’s Angels team, hosting seven fundraisers at Wendy’s on Queen Street before the annual event served as a way to give back to cancer victims while sharing their experiences with the disease with the community at large.
Jean Rose has served as co-captain of “Jean’s Angels in Action Against Cancer” team for 12 years now, honoring thousands of individuals who suffered from the disease. A breast cancer survivor for 12 years, Rose said cancer changed her life in a way that she will always appreciate.
“Cancer for me has been a gift,” said Rose, adding how she has met countless new friends through her involvement in relay. “It changes your whole attitude on life.”
Through her involvement with relay, Rose met her current co-captain, Suzanne Culbert, who has participated in Relay for 15 years now. Culbert joined Jean’s Angels after the death of Jean’s former co-captain.
“I’m a 17-year breast cancer survivor,” said Culbert, who became Rose’s co-captain last year. “It’s my way of giving back.”
“She’s been a friend, she’s been a mentor,” said Jean, adding how her friendship has grown with Culbert. “She is there when I need her.”
Decorated with balloons, the Jean’s Angels fundraiser sold “ribbons of hope,” and other Relay items such as the luminaria bags and relay fans. Wendy’s was also set up with a table equipped with art materials for children and families to decorate the luminaria bags they bought.
For Rose, organizing the fundraisers also serves as a way for her team to spend more time together before the Relay kickoff.
“We don’t have much time to spend together as a team,” said Rose. “This makes it happen.”
Team Rock For Life has also been prepping for Relay through its fundraiser, “Dinner for a Cure” at Machiavelli’s Restaurant. Through the fundraiser, Team Rock has brought members of the community together while raising cancer awareness.
Ashley Aleksinas, the captain of the team, said she has participated in relay since the age of seven, and hopes to honor all victims of cancer as well as her mother, who died from the disease two years ago. Aleksinas said she decided to get involved with relay at a young age after a close friend was diagnosed with leukemia years ago.
“That is what ultimately got me started in relay,” said Aleksinas.
Since then, her passion for raising awareness about cancer grew. In 2007, Aleksinas formed her own relay team after her mother was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer. After her mother passed away two years ago, Aleksinas has continued to keep the memory of her mother alive while raising more awareness. She will also host a bake sale Sunday, May 25 at Tops Market from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Aleksinas has also supported Relay through a CD she created that features songs performed by local artists. The local artists all wrote a song about their experiences with cancer through different genres of music. Aleksinas has sold these CDs with the hope of helping others who may be going through a similar experience.
“I think it’s inspiring,” said Aleksinas, adding that she found over several local artists to give back through social media. “When I was going through everything, I reached out to music to help me hope.”
Scheduled to begin Friday, May 30 at 4 p.m. at Southington High School, Relay for Life’s theme this year is “We Can Be Heroes.” Relay will feature a variety of guest speakers from the town, a torch ceremony, a survivor walk, a movie night, a scavenger hunt, a kids walk and a theme walk, among other activities. The event will end Saturday, May 31 at 4 p.m.
“I enjoy the survivor walk,” said Culbert, adding how emotional it feels to meet her caregivers on the other side. “It’s really inspirational.” “It’s fun and tears.”
“You can feel the relationships between the survivors, the caregivers and the bystanders,” said Rose, who will also participate in the survivor walk.
Any cancer survivors interested in participating in the walk can contact Joyce McAloon, the event chair of Southington Relay, at (860) 302-0519 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Lisa Capobianco