Relay For Life of Puerto Rico's Estudiantil Metro

Being hit by a hurricane was by far the biggest scenario our island had to overcome in 2017. The days after September 20, 2017 were uncertain but mostly full of hope. Every community gathered to make the best of what was left after the storm. We, as a non-profit organization, did our best to continue not just the fight against cancer, but to demonstrate the importance of working as a team to create bigger, better things for our community. It was relevant for us to be volunteers in our community so we could help lift our island and continue our mission.

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With such energy by November, almost two months after the hurricane María, many emails, messages and phone calls started coming through asking if Relay For Life Estudiantil Metro would be possible. At that moment I realized how powerful Relay For Life events were in the community and how engaged American Cancer Society volunteers were with our mission. After facing the biggest catastrophe in Puerto Rico, people were still thinking of us, realizing that cancer patients need us now more than ever.


As a staff partner I knew we had a great challenge to overcome, but not once did I imagine the extraordinary impact that the event would have on me, the committee, and every volunteer involved. It was necessary to analyze our previous event, which was not our best. We started by considering the things that were a success, those that could be bettered, areas that could use new ideas, and so on. The Event Chair, Jorge G. Jorge Torres, and I began a race against the clock to better understand the task set before us, and the possible challenges we would have to overcome. Relay has been around for so long, giving hope to so many, and this time it would be no different.  


Many changes had to be done for us to be able to do Relay again. We had no venue available to host the event. We were used to an open space with lots of room to move. All the parks on the island were devastated because of the hurricane and there was no promise that any possible venue would be in its best condition for us to host a Relay. There we had our first and most challenging transition - the move to an indoor event.  I started the transition by researching indoor events - mostly by looking for pictures and videos of indoor Relay For Life events throughout the Relay community. Our Executive Vice President, Dr. Lillian Santos, helped us out by reaching out to the Global Relay For Life Leadership Team for some best practices that we could use as a guide.

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As part of having an indoor event, it was necessary to host an activity that would impact the community with the meaning of Relay, even with the changes that had to be made. The entire committee worked hard to make sure that our event had the essence of Relay For Life in everything we did, including our “why” - our survivors, the fight against cancer, our friends and family, and so much more. As a team, we divided our efforts to have an unforgettable day of event and create an experience that would make every volunteer involved become even more committed to our mission. Fundraising was an area that we needed to work on. Several ideas used in other events throughout the nation were analyzed and implemented, and others that we had used before were modified. This combination allowed us to surpass our event goal and give back to those who need it the most.


Within the structure of our Relay committees in Puerto Rico, we have Ambassadors. These are the volunteers in charge of providing constant communication and orientation to Team Captains. We divide the total number of teams and assign several Captains to each Ambassador. This year we improved this initiative by making sure that each Ambassador had better, stronger, and constant communication with the Team Captains with a special focus on providing ideas to fundraise, motivate team members, and help each team meet their goal.


Being a part of the communication and receiving resources from Campus Relay For Life leadership has given me the opportunity to get to know the best practices in general of some Campus Events and I also had the chance to moderate and implement new things on our event. On calls, they’ve shared ideas for fundraising strategies, samples of emails they share to Team Captains and other resources.

 

One of the strategies that we introduced was taken from the “Zero to Hero Program” done by the Relay For Life of Harvard and MIT. The purpose of the program is to identify those teams that are not raising any funds or that are below the goal. An email is sent to the Team Captain trying to identify if there is any help that we as staff or committee can give out, as well as remind them of the importance of the donation they make to the American Cancer Society and how it translates to the community. Our Ambassadors and the committee member in charge of the accounting of the event were responsible to follow up with the teams and give them multiple ideas to get the donations needed. We also gave them the chance to meet with us in person to better guide them in the process.


A chaperone is an adult (25 years and older) that oversees the support of the team on behalf of the school. He or she works along with the Team Captains and is the main liaison between the school and us as an organization. The chaperone could be a teacher, parent, counselor, etc. For the first time this year we also had an Ambassador for the chaperone, so their needs could also be met. This, in particular, had not been done before. It helped improve the commitment of the students, the school, and the chaperone. It also gave a higher sense of belonging to the chaperones and, in most cases, providing the unique support to the chaperone gave some structure to the Team Captains and the team members. We hosted a meeting for them without the Team Captains so they had the opportunity to look at other details that were important to them particularly.

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Also with some resources found in Society Source, I found multiple ideas to make fundraising more fun and innovative, as well as focused on online fundraising. We created an online competition that was called 50 in 50. The idea was for all the team members to raise at least $50 in no more than 50 days. We designed the rules, due date, tools for the team members to pass along to family members and friend, prizes, and more. This was the hit of our fundraising campaign.


Different from other seasons, we gave special attention to new Team Captains. This was done by having them attend separate meetings (additional to the regular team meetings we have before the event with Captains and chaperones) to guide them throughout the preparation process. This helped the students to feel more comfortable asking questions and getting to know Relay better. Therefore, it improved a new Captain’s performance during their first time in that role.

 

On the day of the event we had nearly 2,500 participants between the ages of 15 and 23 from 20 different schools and 1 university. We celebrated our 10th anniversary with this event and not only reached our fundraising goal but surpassed it by $56,059.69 for a total of $136,059.69 - a 55% year over year increase. Even with the challenges we faced, the community came together to support our mission of saving lives, celebrating lives, and leading the fight for a world without cancer.


Since the event’s completion, we’ve been working on maintaining the great things that were highly positive, evaluating those that could be modified, and maintaining communication with the teams. We have been working on a program that encourages early contact with our teams and it involves their visit to our Hope Lodge, our visit to the participating schools, and others that will be implemented during the beginning of the season.

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We are looking forward to incorporating ideas and new strategies to raise even more money to fund the mission of the American Cancer Society next Relay For Life season!

As told by Sharon Tossas, Staff.

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Volunteering at Hope Lodges

During college, I was actively involved in Relay For Life. My mother was a breast cancer survivor who took over leadership of our small town's Relay For Life committee and I too became very involved in the event. I acted as various roles on the committee and was also a team captain of a Relay For Life team. Having seen my mother's battle with cancer first-hand, I absolutely loved being a part of Relay For Life and was very passionate about what the American Cancer Society stood for.

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Once I graduated college, I moved from my small town to Kansas City, a booming metro area. I made the move just a few short months after wrapping up our annual Relay For Life event and I found myself missing that involvement. Relay For Life was an amazing experience, but it was only something I focused on for a handful of months out of the year. I wondered if there were other volunteer opportunities with ACS that would allow me to be more involved throughout the non-Relay months of the year. I happened to be driving through downtown Kansas City one day when I saw the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge building and thought to myself "I wonder what that is".

Later that night, I looked at cancer.org to find out about Hope Lodge Kansas City and learned about the amazing value Hope Lodge provides to cancer patients 365 days a year. And very quickly, I was sold! I have been volunteering with Hope Lodge KC for the last two years and have loved every minute of it!

Let me share some background on American Cancer Society Hope Lodges.

Hope Lodges are ACS-funded facilities that provide free lodging for cancer patients and their caregivers who have to travel a long distance for treatment. In addition to providing free housing, they cultivate an atmosphere of support and empathy for patients and their families. Being around so many others who are going through a similar journey helps the residents feel encouragement and, ultimately, hope.

There are over 30 Hope Lodges throughout the US with an average of 44,000 patients and caregivers accommodated each year. That adds up to be about $36 million saved for those cancer patients and caregivers! But as with any sizable non-profit initiatives, it takes a village! It takes a lot of time, money, and work to keep these facilities up and running. There are many ways that individuals can assist a Hope Lodge, whether that's through volunteering, fundraising, or donations.

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If you prefer to fundraise, any Hope Lodge will gladly accept monetary gifts. Fundraising can be done outside of the facility, such as at work or in your friend circles and then you can give the money raised to Hope Lodge. However, I've also seen individuals who have held fundraising events inside the facility as well. At the Hope Lodge I volunteer at, someone hosted a bake sale in the actual building and invited his friends and family to come buy goods and take a tour of Hope Lodge while they were there! Hosting a fundraising event in the building is a great way for your friends and families to see, first-hand, what Hope Lodge is and what their donations support.

Aside from monetary donations, Hope Lodges also accept donated items as well. Contact your nearest Hope Lodge location to see what they are in particular need of. For example, the location I volunteer at is always in needs of paper goods like paper towels and toilet paper. Another example is bingo prizes, such as t-shirts, trinkets, and gift cards because volunteers at our Hope Lodge commonly host bingo nights with the guests. But this may differ from location to location, so check with your particular location to see what items are needed at your nearest Hope Lodge.

When it comes to volunteering, there are countless ways that you can volunteer at Hope Lodge. Helping with housework, cooking meals for guests, or hosting activities are just a few. In my two years volunteering, I have led a variety of activities, such as preparing dinners for guests, hosting root beer float nights, bingo games, yoga sessions, movie nights, and crafts activities. What I especially love about volunteering with Hope Lodge is that it gives you a first-hand glimpse into the cancer journeys of the guests and the powerful support system and hope that is cultivated there. And despite how tough and challenging a battle with cancer is, the guests always amaze me with their gratitude and thankfulness towards my volunteer work.

 

One memory that I hold particularly close to my heart is when I made and served a meal and a guest told me, "This is the best meal I've had in six months!" It meant so much to me to know that the meal I had prepared could bring a little bit of light and happiness in an otherwise dark and trying time in their life.

Aside from the humbling gratitude of the guests and the moving experiences I have encountered while volunteering, another meaningful aspect has been receiving an "Exceptional Volunteerism" award for the last two years because of my dedication to volunteering with Hope Lodge.

This volunteer work has hands down been one of the most impactful experiences of my life, as well as one that I am most proud of. Since moving to Kansas City, I've also been able to be involved in other ACS initiatives as well, such as Road to Recovery, the Cancer Action Network, and Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. But there's something about Hope Lodge that resonates for me more than my other ACS experiences. It has provided me with first-hand experiences that just can't be matched.

Each night that I volunteer with Hope Lodge, I leave so much more humbled than when I entered. And each night, I also recount memories of my mother's journey with cancer and become more thankful that her battle was successful and that she is now six years cancer free.

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So, if you're like me when I graduated college and you find yourself at a milestone in your life where you maybe have more time on your hands, or perhaps you are looking for more ways to get involved in ACS during the non-Relay months, I strongly encourage you to look into Hope Lodge.

I can attest that it will provide you some exceptionally moving experiences! But I should warn you that it may be emotionally difficult, just like Relay for Life or any other ACS event can be. But in your time at Hope Lodge, you will meet and learn about inspirational people and consequently will learn even more about yourself as well. And when you participate in future American Cancer Society fundraising events, like Relay For Life, those memories from Hope Lodge will remind you just why what you're doing is so important.

If you'd like to get involved with Hope Lodge either as a volunteer or through fundraising and donation efforts, click here (https://www.cancer.org/treatment/support-programs-and-services/patient-lodging/hope-lodge.html) to find the location nearest to you.

Written with love and hope,

Bree Walter

RFL: Florida International University and ACS CAN

Guest Blog: Florida International University

Recently, the Relay For Life of Florida International University had a record number of signups for ACS CAN memberships. Read about how Michelle Juarez, the Logistics Director of FIU RFL, and her team accomplished this record, and take some ideas back to your event!

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1. How did you incorporate mission and get people excited about ACS CAN?

Our community manager first introduced it to our executive board and explained the mission to us. We were encouraged as a board to take a decision and incorporate it into our efforts. The way that we were able to incorporate and get people excited was by starting with our committee who was able to hear from a survivor who works directly with ACS CAN to come and explain it to all members. We thought that it was a good way to have each member then be able to communicate that message to others and understand what ACS CAN stood for. We then got our committee to each meet a goal of people to sign up and then also incorporated it into our pre events and our gala in February.

2. How did you encourage people to register for ACS CAN? What did that process look like?

Because the registration was $10, college students were put off by signing up however this is why educating our committee with a speaker really helped because some of them were able to convey a smaller and condensed version of the speech to regular students. Also when we incorporated it into our pre events there was someone walking around campus and a lot of emphasis was placed on how this would help ACS and all those affected by it later on. We had a competition for a while with a neighbor campus and who could raise the most amount of subscribers to ACS CAN and that really motivated our population of students to take part as well. When we had our gala to crown new campus ambassadors, we offered it to contestants taking part in the competition as a way to get extra points and that helped as well. We designated one eboard member to be the one in charge of the ACS CAN efforts and it helped also because she was able to keep others accountable and she made everyone start with their friends and then that way talking to random students was easier as time went on. We also had some forms the day of the event.

3. Do you have any other thoughts or suggestions you'd like to share?

Overall, I think that getting a speaker really helped and it started within our own committee having them sign up too then our friends and relative and then starting moving to the general population. It was getting used to advocating for a program instead of just going up to people and saying to donate to ACS/Cancer Efforts but more so what the program could do to be able to get the $10 donation. The big help too was finding ways to incorporate it into pre events because it was taking advantage of people that come to our events and care for the cause to learn about something new that they could contribute to. 

RFL Training Plan: Love Letters to Graduating Seniors

*sentimental music*

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Dear Seniors,

Please don’t leave us. We don’t know what the Relay movement on our campus is like without you. You’ve been with us every step up of the way, encouraging us, guiding us, answering our ten million questions, and trying to pass down your four years of wisdom at the same time. Please don’t leave us!

Love, Everyone Else

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Graduation season got you feeling a little sentimental? And not because your beloved seniors are graduating but because they’re leaving you behind? Yeah, we all know the feeling. But wanna know a secret? The best way to keep your seniors coming back and retain their support as alumni is to send them off with a bang! Celebrate them, their work, their achievements and let them clearly know how significant they’ve been towards the Relay For Life movement on your campus!

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If Greek Life is big on your campus, I imagine Senior Send-offs are too. But why should we get left out of the fun?  Host your own Senior Send-Off party for your graduating seniors. Cater some food or have a potluck, collect some old (maybe embarrassing) photos and videos of the people you’re celebrating, and ask the rest of your committee to come with hand written thank you letters for each senior or ready to share their favorite memory of each senior! It’s a sweet and sentimental way to let your seniors know exactly how important they are and how much their continued support will mean to you!

If your campus loves to show off graduation cords and stoles consider purchasing purple American Cancer Society graduation cords for graduating seniors. With this small gesture your seniors will be able to show off their ACS pride during a life-changing moment and they’ll be sure to thank you! It can become a time-honored tradition within your committee - something for each member to look forward to as they graduate. Your staff partner can place an order for the cords here.

Finally consider making your own, brand new tradition to recognize seniors - something that is unique and relevant to your campus! Maybe a certain type of cuisine that’s eaten at a get together every year or a specific activity that’s played together every year? No matter what you do, don’t forget to thank your seniors. They’ve spent many hours working their butts off to make your event successful and their continued support as alumni can help your event continue to grow! A heartfelt thank you and small celebration goes a long way towards ensuring their continued dedication - and they won’t reaaaaalllly leave you if they’re still supporting your Relay, right? Problem solved!

RFL Training Plan: Transition

There are a couple life changes where large numbers of amazing Relay For Life participants stop volunteering for the American Cancer Society. 

One, is the transition from high school to college. Some people think that there won’t be enough time to continue volunteering for the American Cancer Society, while some say that they want to explore other volunteering opportunities in college.

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RFL Training Plan: Succession Planning

How did we get from this man there to this cute grandma here? A SUCCESSION PLAN!!!

A solid succession plan works to make sure that the work you’re doing this year lasts for hundreds of years (okay, maybe a little less than that) after this one event. One problem a lot of campuses face is tied to the nature of being a campus event: graduation.

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RFL Training Plan: Recognition

It’s easy to wrap up your fundraising season after your event, calculating final fundraising numbers and updating leaderboards. Forgetting to plan for the next fundraising season immediately is a common oversight. However, by thanking all of your donors, like big corporate sponsors, or recognizing smaller donations from friends and family, we can ensure future support and donations.

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RFL Training Plan: Leadership Under Pressure

RFL Training Plan: Leadership Under Pressure

Just a few short months ago I was in your shoes - managing a Relay For Life to-do list of about 34 million tasks, struggling to maintain my other commitments like school and work, and steadily losing the interest of my ELT. There’s a lot of pressure on you as a leader - get everything done, do it well, and do it on time. It’s nearly impossible to be successful - key word nearly. It can all be done, done well, and done on time - you just have to ask your team to give 10000%. Consider these tips for your own stress relief and then share with your ELTs!

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RFL Training Plan: Team Fundraising

RFL Training Plan: Team Fundraising

This blog is going to dive into the benefits of team fundraising from a few different perspectives. 


From a ELT member's perspective:
Team fundraisers benefit ELT members in many ways. First and foremost, it's an extra boost in fundraising with minimal work from your leadership team. A win win in my eyes, less work but more money! Additionally, team fundraisers will create greater awareness around your campus. The reach of a team is going to be different than you general fundraiser. A team will promote it on their social media pages and to their group of friends which can potentially generate their interest in joining the fight. 

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RFL Training Plan: Finding $0 Participants

Each year on your campus before Relay season, a group of heroes gets together and talks about the plan for the coming year. What do we change this year? How do we fundraise more for the American Cancer Society?
Every year, a group of zeroes shows up sometime around the event, pays the registration fee and enjoys the awesome event experience you’ve spent so much time creating. I call them zeroes, because that is exactly what their impact on your event is - $0. With many campuses having over half of their participants (and some above 80%) not fundraising, the impact on our Relay For Life movement is huge. 

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RFL Training Plan: Accessible Fundraising

Does your general participant have everything they need to fundraise? Let’s check!
Do they have a set personal fundraising goal for the year?
Do they know how to use their dashboard correctly?
Do they know how to ask for donations through social media and email?
Do they have personal fundraising tactics (i.e. selling t-shirts)? 

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RFL Training Plan: Make it Meaningful

Have you noticed a lack of diversity within your campus Relay? 

While unintentional, if you look through your lists of past and present participants, you might notice that certain populations are very well represented while others are not at all. Notice who comes to Relay and more importantly, who does not. 

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RFL Training Plan: Make it New

RFL Training Plan: Make it New

Change is inevitable. But change can also be really, really good. After a conclusion of a Relay season, you should debrief and find things to change. Maybe this was your best event in recent years (congrats!), but there is always something to improve. This change may be something behind the scenes like your committee structure or more external like your entertainment. 

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RFL Training Plan: Northwestern University Event Launch

Guest Blog: Northwestern University

In November, our training plan focus is all about "Bring the People" and event launches are a big part of getting your campus excited about Relay! Recently, the Relay For Life of Northwestern University had their event launch and it was a big hit with the campus. Read about the event below and take some ideas back to your event!

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RFL Training Plan: USC Event Launch

In November, our training plan focus is all about "Bring the People" and event launches are a big part of getting your campus excited about Relay! Recently, the Relay For Life of USC had their event launch and it was a big hit with the campus. Read about the event below and take some ideas back to your event!

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RFL Training Plan: Diversify & Include

Have you noticed a lack of diversity within your campus Relay? 

While unintentional, if you look through your lists of past and present participants, you might notice that certain populations are very well represented while others are not at all. Notice who comes to Relay and more importantly, who does not. 

Read More