Rachael Martines, 14, a freshman at Carle Place High School, is looking forward to staying up all night on June 4. She's not headed for a slumber party -- she'll be walking her high school track hour upon hour to help raise money to fight cancer, and she says she thinks it will be "a blast."
Martines is captain of a team of classmates participating in the American Cancer Society's annual Relay for Life. Suffolk County has 19 relays from April 1 to June 19, and Nassau County has 20. Last year, the events raised more than $2.5 million.
"I have two grandparents who passed away from cancer," Martines says. "Everyone in some way or another has been affected by the disease. It's something the whole town comes out for."
This is how each relay works: Teams of up to 15 register for the event. The Society hopes teams raise the equivalent of $100 per member in a variety of ways -- through soliciting outright donations or organizing pre-relay day fundraisers such as car washes, bowling nights or bake sales. Many of the teams are high school students. "Tent cities" are set up, usually around the local high school track, and at least one team member is supposed to be walking the track at all times throughout the night.
Most relay events run overnight from about 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., the idea being that cancer never sleeps. But the events are also open to the public during the evening hours and have a carnival-type feel, with booths such as face-painting, dunk tanks, pie-in-the-face and Chinese auctions. School bands and choirs and DJs provide music.
Cancer survivors are honored by making the opening lap together; most events have a "luminaria" ceremony once the sun goes down, when participants carry candles in paper bags decorated with the names of people with the disease or who have died from it.
Visit the American Cancer Society's website at relayforlife.org/relay/find event and plug in your ZIP code to find the relay closest to you. Here are a few sample events:
Carle Place High School
WHERE | WHEN 168 Cherry Lane, Carle Place, 5:30 p.m. June 4 through sunrise June 5
Evening activities include a dunk tank, a bouncy obstacle course, a performance by a local dance school, Zumba lessons, a three-legged race and sack races. At about 9 p.m., the luminaria ceremony occurs, with the candlelight illuminating the track while bagpipers play and the participants walk the laps in silence. "That is one of the best parts. It is an amazing, amazing thing," says Jenna-Lyn Zaino, the relay coordinator.
Newfield High School
WHERE | WHEN 145 Marshall Dr., Selden, 6 p.m. May 21 to
6 a.m. May 22
Like most relays, this one kicks off with a free catered dinner for cancer survivors and their families; then the survivors make the opening lap dressed in purple T-shirts. The Centereach High School music department alone is fielding three teams of kids, one from the regular choir and two from the select women's choir. The choirs will also perform during the evening. "We usually sing a cappella music and pop music," says senior Maria Rueda, 17. Some planned tunes: "It's Raining Men" and a Spice Girls medley. "There's not a whole lot of sleeping at the event," says committee member Debbie Parker. "It's very uplifting; it's contagious. You get that relay sparkle in your eye."
Northport High School
6 a.m. June 5
This is Northport's third year participating, and already it is the biggest relay in Suffolk County, with more than 1,300 people registered on teams and more than 2,500 expected at the opening ceremony. It's vying for the biggest amount of money raised in Suffolk as well -- that position is held by the Relay of the South Fork, which already completed its 2011 event and raised $160,000, says Pam Parker, a director of special events for the American Cancer Society in Hauppauge. Students from the Fifth Avenue Elementary School in East Northport, in kindergarten through fifth grade, will walk their own lap during the event with their own banner.
Sousa Elementary School
This year is the 10th anniversary of Port Washington's participation. Kids' activities during the evening include arts and crafts and games. The opening ceremony is at 7 p.m.; the luminaria ceremony is at 9 p.m. There are also appearances by the fire department color guard, bagpipe players and inspirational speakers. "It's a lot of fun, you're excited," says Schreiber High School freshman Rachel Johnson, 14, a team captain. "At night with the luminaria, it's almost like a magical feeling."