Effort underway to revive Relay for Life

 

Ron Shaw, left, Pat Burnstad, Shari Burnstad and Jeff Ashby at the Fort Smith Relay for Life in 2013. There hasn't been a Relay for Life in Hay River since 2012 and Shari Burnstad, who chaired the previous three Canadian Cancer Society fundraisers, said she's hoping someone will step up to the plate for 2016.

Ron Shaw, left, Pat Burnstad, Shari Burnstad and Jeff Ashby at the Fort Smith Relay for Life in 2013. There hasn’t been a Relay for Life in Hay River since 2012 and Shari Burnstad, who chaired the previous three Canadian Cancer Society fundraisers, said she’s hoping someone will step up to the plate for 2016.

An initiative is underway to try to breathe new life into the Relay for Life in Hay River.

The relay – a national fundraiser for the Canadian Cancer Society – was last held in the community in 2012. The plan was to again hold it in 2014 but that did not happen because of a shortage of volunteers.

“Over the last couple of months, we’ve been reaching out to past volunteers and participants,” said Nikki Grobbecker, the revenue development co-ordinator for the NWT with the Canadian Cancer Society in Yellowknife. “We’ve been reaching out to some of the organizations in Hay River trying to see if they know of anyone that would be interested.”

Grobbecker said a lot of organizations were contacted via phone calls and e-mails, and a lot of them are more than willing to spread the word about a relay for 2016.

“But we haven’t had anyone who’s actually stepped up and said that they’re interested in the committee,” she said, adding that a lot of people responding are already involved with other volunteer efforts.

Still, Grobbecker is hopeful someone will step forward.

“I’m hopeful that at some point we’ll get some people interested in taking on this committee,” she said, explaining the formation of an organizing committee is the necessary first step.

“Really, we just need to get a couple of people that are really passionate about it and interested in putting the event on, and from there we’d be able to get other people involved, for sure,” she said, adding that a committee would need at least six people.

On the day of the relay, 50 to 70 volunteers would also be required.

In the past, the Hay River Lions Club had taken the lead in organizing the event, and a core committee of Lions was ready to do so in 2014.

Shari Burnstad, a Lions Club member and chair of the three editions of the Relay for Life held in Hay River, would like to see the event return to the community.

However, she said, aside from the Lions, there was “absolutely nobody” interested in volunteering last year, when she was again willing to be chair of the organizing committee.

“It’s really disappointing and it’s really frustrating when you try to get people to help,” she said.

Burnstad was also bothered when people would complain about the money going south, adding that cancer patients in the NWT go to Alberta for treatment.

While she would be willing to help out, Burnstad and the other Lions can’t take the lead on an event in 2016.

“Basically, we were looking for other people,” said Grobbecker. “I mean they have given so much time to the committee over the past three times that it was run there and I know Shari is very involved in volunteering at other things in town.”

Burnstad said the Lions were facing burnout, adding that her own health is also important.

“We need our young people to start stepping up to the plate,” she said. “I’m just about 70 years old. Where are the young people? Cancer will affect them as well as everybody else.”

Burnstad said the three Relays for Life in Hay River – in 2008, 2010 and 2012 – raised more than $400,000 in total.

“Now we can’t get people to even help,” she said.

However, Burnstad is hopeful Relay for Life will return to the community.

“I feel that Hay River could still do it,” she said.

When the Relay for Life did not happen in Hay River last year, Burnstad organized a Lions Club team to go to the Yellowknife event and raised $10,000 for the cause.

In the South Slave, Relay for Life began 2006 in Fort Smith, and that community still has a lot of support, including for its edition earlier this year when it raised more than $150,000.

In recent years, the Relay for Life has alternated annually between Fort Smith and Hay River.

Relay for Life is held in June.

Grobbecker said organizing committees usually start in October or November of the previous year but she has no deadline for when a committee has to be formed in Hay River for a 2016 event.

“At this point, we’re really looking to have the event in Hay River,” she said. “So we’ll just keep on pushing to find volunteers to be part of that committee.”

–Paul Bickford