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Jamie Faulkner: A yearlong quest to build successful Relay for Life of Hampshire County  

From left, Gail Croake, Jim Hannifan and Wendy Payson, the three people overseeing this year's Relay for Life of Hampshire County.

JAMIE FAULKNER From left, Gail Croake, Jim Hannifan and Wendy Payson, the three people overseeing this year's Relay for Life of Hampshire County. Purchase photo reprints »

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of monthly columns profiling people and events involved in this year’s Relay For Life of Hampshire County, which will be held June 14 and 15 at Look Memorial Park in Florence.

Around the globe, there are thousands of Relays, each organized by a group of volunteers. In Hampshire County, a committee of dozens of volunteers is led by three chairs, Wendy Payson of Southampton and Gail Croake and Jim Hannifan, both of Easthampton.

Even with full-time jobs and families to care for, these volunteers take time out of their busy schedules to oversee subcommittees and schedule monthly meetings to plan for the Relay, which will be held this year on June 14 and 15 from 3 p.m. to 3 p.m. They also promote, promote, promote, and fundraise tirelessly for their own Relay teams.

As Hannifan said, “The chairs do everything. ... If it needs to be done, I do my best to see to it by bringing in others who I feel are capable of doing the best job for Relay.”

“I listen, then share and act to better the Relay experience for everyone,” he said.

Payson, Croake and Hannifan knew each other before becoming chairs, since they were separately involved with Relay teams. This June will mark Hannifan’s fifth year as a participant; his first was in 2009 after losing his wife, Donna, to cancer.

Croake did her first Relay 10 years ago when the company she works for started a team after losing a colleague. Now, she participates in Relays in memory of her mother, who passed away less than two years ago, as well as family members battling the disease.

The chair with the longest participation is Payson, who got involved with Relay in its first year in Hampshire County in 1998, one year after losing her father to the disease. She said the committee is like a family.

“We each have our own strong points and weak points, and we seem to blend quite well, and it shows,” said Hannifan.

Croake added, “We each oversee different parts of the Relay, and then we come together to make sure that we have a great event.” Although everyone involved with the Relay has someone special in mind, Hannifan sees the big picture.

“Throughout Donna’s treatments, I saw what she went through and how hard it was for her,” he said. “I hope that my Relaying will some day make it so that no one has to ever go through the same thing. While we wait for that day, I hope that having Relay will bring together resources for others to make their fight and journey a bit less difficult.”

“Relay isn’t only a fundraiser for a cure, it’s also a celebration of life,” Payson said, noting that each year, roughly 250 survivors participate.

“We are celebrating survivors, but also life in general,” she said. “It helps people not to take life for granted.”

One of Payson’s favorite moments in the Relay is the survivor reception, preceded by the survivor walk. “The survivors do a lap around the track, and it’s a sea of people in purple survivor shirts,” she said. “Everyone is cheering them on. It’s a testament to the fact that Relay efforts are working, the research is working.”

One remaining challenge, though, is spreading the word about Relay and getting the general public to see its importance.

Hannifan said he is shocked that at least 70 percent of the people he talks to outside of the Relay community don’t know what the Relay is. “Try and find someone whose life has not been affected by cancer, whether it be a family member or friend,” he said. “It’s very hard to do. So why don’t they know about Relay?”

Hannifan believes health insurance companies and treatment providers could do more to further the cause. “Promoting Relay is promoting a cure,” he said.

“I would like to encourage people to come to our Relay if they have never been,” Croake said. “You will never experience a feeling like this anywhere. Come and celebrate the survivors, remember loved ones lost to cancer, and fight back for a cure.”

For more information about Relay For Life of Hampshire County or to make a donation, go to www.relayforlife.org/hampshirecountyma.

This year, the American Cancer Society will be enrolling volunteers in a cancer prevention study at the event itself. For more information, visit cancer.org/cps3 or email CPS3@hamprelay.org.

Jamie Faulkner is a student at Westfield State University.

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