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Manchester marches toward cancer awareness at Relay for Life

National Honor Society leads Manchester Valley High School event

By Jim Joyner, jjoyner@patuxent.com

4:00 PM EDT, March 30, 2012

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There was a moment at the March 23 Relay for Life at Manchester Valley High School that Rebecca Lefkowitz, a senior and president of the school's National Honor Society, and a friend climbed to the top steps at the Maverick's stadium and looked at the walkers, the activities and the glowing luminaria below, each signifying someone who has been touched by cancer.

"We were ... looking down on all of it, and just stood there are watched for a minute," she said.

"It was solemn, but hopeful."

Manchester Valley hosted its first-ever Relay for Life on Friday evening, pulling together aspects of the high school and the greater community to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

The relay was organized by the National Honor Society, and was aided by the MVHS Athletic Boosters, whose members provided food, and other school clubs and organizations that ran activities during the event.

Relays for Life are held across the country, and many consist of overnight "campouts" where teams take turns walking or running around a track. Prior to the event, teams collect pledges and other donations.

Manchester's relay was scheduled for just Friday evening, 5 to 11 p.m., but nevertheless included all of the aspects of most relay events: an opening ceremony, a cancer survivors' lap, a luminaria ceremony — in which luminaria are lit to honor those fighting cancer, and those who have died from the disease — and a closing ceremony.

"My favorite part was the luminaria," Lefkowitz said. "It was dark along the track, and really quiet. It is a poignant moment."

Allison Piper, another NHS member and a lead organizer of the event, agreed that the luminaria ceremony was her favorite part of the night — along with the overall turnout.

"I was impressed by the turnout and all the support from the community," Piper said. "It shows how the community has truly joined together since school opened."

Piper said she had been involved in Relays for Life in Westminster, and "was in full support of doing one at our school."

Melissa Thomas, teacher adviser for the NHS at Manchester Valley, said the students worked for months planning the event, led by Piper and Brad Davidson, student coordinators.

"Our students really stepped up to help at all of the stations and kept the relay running smoothly. Our staff and family members stepped in to run the luminaria table, concession booth and bake sale table," Thomas said.

The NHS had solicited for help and support from local elementary schools, businesses and organizations, such as the Manchester Area Merchants Association. During the night, in addition to the walk, there were activities, puppets and even a screening of the film, "Megamind," for kids.

"We really wanted it to have that community feeling," Lefkowitz said. "That was our hope from the very beginning. It was fun and very successful."

"I am always impressed with the students of Manchester Valley," Thomas said. "They really join together to support causes and have such respect at events that the community really feels safe and welcome. I believe that they are great ambassadors for how important our teenagers are in communities."

On Saturday, Lefkowitz said that as the event neared, organizers had set a goal of raising $10,000 — a lofty target for a first-year event. During the relay, it was announced that they fallen just shy, at $9,967.

But then teachers from the school gathered their resources, ran down to the track and presented another $33 to hit the mark.

Lefkowitz said the success of the event means it'll certainly become an annual event at Manchester Valley, and hopes it will become an important way for the community to share the impact of cancer. She said a particularly meaningful moment for her came as she handed out beads to runners for each lap they completed, and struck up conversations with people who turned out to be survivors.

"It made me think — a lot of people have been touched by cancer," she said.

"A lot of my mom's side of the family has been touched by breast cancer. It's hard to think about losing a family member to such a terrible disease," she said.

Relay's next stop ...

Additional Relay for Life events in Carroll County are currently being planned.

The Relay for Life of Westminster, will be held May 18, at the Carroll County Agriculture Center, Shipley Arena. Go to RelayForLife.org/Westminster for details. The first event tied to that Relay is a fundraising survivors' pancake breakfast at Applebees in Westminster on Sunday, April 22, 8 to 10 a.m. Family and friends can join participants for $7 per person (kids $4.50). Space is limited. Call 410-781-4316 for details and tickets.

And another Relay will be held in the Freedom area in South Carroll, at Liberty High School, on June 1, at 7 p.m. For more information about that event, call 410-781-4316 or visit RelayForLife.org/freedommd.

This story has been updated.