To raise money for cancer awareness, MSJ Relay for Life (RFL) participated in the American Cancer Society’s annual Fund the Mission event from February 16-18. Across the country, high school and college students came together to fundraise money for patient care programs, cancer research, and free lodging during treatment. At the end of Fund the Mission, MSJ placed first on the leaderboard after fundraising $11,232.57, surpassing more than 200 other high school RFL teams in the nation.
Despite the challenges of fundraising virtually, MSJ Relay for Life was able to overcome these obstacles by sending out emails to their friends and family for donations, creating Facebook campaigns, and taking advantage of company matching gift programs. Four out of the top ten relayers nationwide were from MSJ RFL: Sophomore Katelyn Tran, Physics Teacher Peter Geschke, Junior Event Leadership Team (ELT) Member Tanisha Srivatsa, and Paraeducator Jess McCauley. By the end of the three days, MSJ had raised $11,232.57, placing first on the high school Relay for Life leaderboard. “The fact that we were able to reach [our goal] was not only a testament to the work that the ELT has put in, but the dedication that every single relayer and every single person that supports the American Cancer Society put into this initiative,” Srivatsa said.
“We’ve had to do a lot more of what we should have been doing from the very get-go, which is doing direct appeals to our networks, our personal family, friends, co-workers to say ‘Hey I’m fighting cancer, would you support me?’” MSJ Relay for Life Supervisor John Boegman said.
Combined with the money the team had fundraised earlier in the school year, MSJ Relay for Life raised a total of $25,859.13, surpassing their goal of $20,000. “I’ve learned that the students at MSJ who are passionate about the American Cancer Society will not let anything get in their way as far as getting the word out of what they’re doing and engaging the community at large to join them in their journey.” American Cancer Society Supervisor Jennifer Nash said.
In addition to the challenge of hosting a virtual event, MSJ RFL has seen a drastic decrease in the number of their participants. Senior ELT Lead Elise Huang said, “This year our numbers have been hit really hard. Before we would have 600-700 participants, but this year, we only have 150. It’s been really hard to get the word out, especially to underclassmen.” Many of the ELT members share a similar sentiment of looking to bounce back from the pandemic and help the numbers rise. “My goal personally is to get the word out to underclassmen and to the MSJ body more, as well as increase participation in the RFL community, especially during the pandemic,” Senior ELT Lead Aanya Bhatia said.
For the past 8 years, MSJ Relay for Life has planned for an in-person 24 hour main event, where relayers stay the night at MSJ and participate in events like the Luminaria Ceremony to honor cancer survivors. In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the ELT quickly transitioned the main event from in person to virtually within a month, dubbing the new event Relay Where You Are. The event featured games such as a Minecraft server, educational Scratch videos, virtual Luminaria bag decorating, Kahoot, and speakers on Zoom. This year, they planned to do more group events focused on bringing the individual teams together. On February 13, MSJ RFL hosted an alumni panel. The panel featured past MSJ Alumna RFL Event Lead Kira Sano, who spearheaded the first ever virtual event, as well as Alumna Milli Parikh, who started the first ever Relay at MSJ, alongside six other MSJ RFL alumni. The panelists shared their inspiring experiences with RFL, as well as how they brought their experiences with them to college and beyond.
Geschke expressed his excitement towards the upcoming fundraising season and Relay for Life events. “I love how enthusiastic the students are, and I really miss having the event at the track. It’s something to look forward to and it’s such a good cause to rally together for. Hopefully we’ll be able to have a really great virtual event this year and garner lots of resources for the American Cancer Society,” Geschke said.
“We began planning the virtual event a lot earlier this year, and we made sure to also have more engaging games that included their teams. Last year, we had a bit more individual games, and we found the more engaging games were definitely team based. We did this last year, so we continued to do things like social media challenges, where each day had a specific theme to hype up the event.” — Aanya Bhatia, 12
“I think that our team is especially incredible in the sense that I can feel their passion for this organization, and that’s one way we’ve come together, through the shared desire to push this organization forward … By overcoming these hurdles, we’ve gotten closer and we’ve put way more effort into reaching out to each other and forming bonds over the unspoken thing that comes with planning. And I think that’s how we’ve been getting through this year, by trusting our ELT members.” — Mahek Bhora, 12
“The students who are part of [RFL], meet regularly with the academic advisor who’s for Mr. Boegman and myself, and then they also meet without us. I think that that’s very powerful, because they’ve set time to bond with one another. They’re all a part of this team, and are truly a group of students who are caring and empathetic beyond just themselves so that they can continue RFL and what it brings to the community.” — ACS Supervisor Jennifer Nash
“It really is a student run organization, and I give them advice and I try to give them suggestions that will help them, but ultimately the planning comes down to them and last year and bringing when we would have to be virtual. The students on the ELT put in extraordinary hours to come up with a plan to do things virtually.” — MSJ Supervisor John Boegman
“It’s hard to get the word out. In the past, we would usually put up posters that people would be able to see as they walked by, but this year, everything is virtual. The freshmen this year won’t be able to get all the information as easily as it was previously.” — Aparna Singh, 12
“Depending on what you want to do, there is really something for everyone. Because of the community we have surrounding RFL and the way everyone comes together to support this amazing cause. Anyone can make an impact, and I think that’s why being a part of RFL is so meaningful for me and so many others.” — Tanisha Srivatsa, 11
“The ELT has a really close bond. We all share one common goal and we all understand each other’s interests, which has really helped us overcome the barrier of fundraising virtually this year.” — Aaditya Talati, 12
“I’ve always been interested in Relay even when it first started at MSJ and I contributed to other faculty members that participated. In 2015, my wife was diagnosed with cancer. She has two different types of cancer: Stage IV breast cancer and thyroid cancer. She’s gone through a lot of surgeries and treatments over the past six years, so I decided back in 2016 to start participating to show support for her and all the other people that have been affected in our MSJ community.” — Physics Teacher Peter Geschke
Cover image by News Editor Alina Zeng