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Relay for Life in need of volunteers

WORTHINGTON -- In the past 21 years, the Nobles County Relay for Life has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the American Cancer Society. That money has helped fund research, education and advocacy leading to new and better cancer treatm...

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CJ Kremer (left) and Kayla Markus assist Relay team members during the 2017 Nobles County Relay For Life last August at the fairgrounds.(Tim Middagh/The Globe)

WORTHINGTON - In the past 21 years, the Nobles County Relay for Life has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the American Cancer Society. That money has helped fund research, education and advocacy leading to new and better cancer treatment options, increased support for those living with the disease and a place to stay for cancer patients at its Hope Lodges.

With a significant drop in local volunteers - just four people attended a pre-kick-off meeting in mid-December - participants fear they won’t be able to plan a Nobles County Relay in 2018.

Sami Jo Helmers Nelson, who helps southwest Minnesota counties coordinate their Relays as community development manager for the American Cancer Society, said the lack of volunteers isn’t just a local problem - it’s happening everywhere.

“Across the nation, volunteers are just dwindling,” said Helmers, who spent a decade on the Relay planning committee in Martin County before moving into her role with ACS more than a year ago. “People are getting so busy with everything else.”

Fewer volunteers means fewer people to fundraise for the ACS. In 2014, the Nobles County Relay for Life raised more than $110,000 in the fight against cancer. Just three years later, in 2017, the Relay had less than half the participation and the event raised approximately $26,000. Fewer participants wasn’t the only reason for the significant drop in dollars raised. Severe weather on the night of the relay - with hail and four tornado touchdowns in the area - had volunteers packing up before the evening program really started.

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Helmers, who assists seven counties with Relay for Life activities, said planning committees that comprised 20 to 25 people a few years ago are now working with anywhere from three to 15 volunteers. Teams have also lost participants.

ACS has taken note. Coordinators like Helmers are encouraging counties to do what they can to have a Relay, but if there aren’t enough volunteers, it’s time to get creative.

“ACS is opening the floodgates - taking away the parameters that used to be in place,” Helmers said.

That includes reducing the Relay from what was once a 12-hour event in Nobles County to an evening event, something that was already transitioned to several years ago.

When the Relay for Life was founded by Dr. Gordon Klatt in May 1985, it was a 24-hour event.

Also, teams are no longer required to have someone walking on the luminary-lit track during the entire Relay.

“We definitely don’t want to say no to Relay,” Helmers said. “We want this to be a call to action for people.”

While a Relay can’t be done without volunteers to make it happen, Helmers said attendance at the event has also dropped in recent years. That’s why there’s talk of doing something different, such as continuing with the successful Survivor Supper and adding more to that event, which is typically a week before the Relay.

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Another idea would be to host a 5K - something that would draw in a new group of people.

Local Relay volunteers are looking for input from the community, as well as people to get involved. The next meeting is planned for 6 p.m. Jan. 29 in a basement meeting room at Sanford Worthington Medical Center. Signs will be posted near the reception area directing people to the room.

Participation at that meeting will determine whether Nobles County hosts a Relay this year, or they may plan another event or merge with a neighboring county.

For more information about the ACS Relay for Life, visit http://bit.ly/2AjhJIT or visit the Nobles County page at relayforlife.org/noblesmn. To be a Relay for Life volunteer or to join a team, contact Helmers at (507) 236-1231 or email samijo.helmersnelson@cancer.org .

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Amanda and Cody (holding Laikyn) Sawyer make a Disney Lap with daughters Reese (in front) and Ella at the 2017 Nobles County Relay For Life.(Tim Middagh/The Globe)

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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