City’s Relay for Life faces uncertain future in fight vs. breast cancer

The Annual Maricopa Relay for Life is 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 5, at Copper Sky Regional Park,

One in eight women in the U.S. and 2.3 million worldwide are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, according to the American Cancer Society.

In Maricopa, Relay for Life is among the largest fundraisers in the battle against the disease. This year, Relay is 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 5, at Copper Sky Regional Park, but one of its organizers says its future there is in question.

Jaime Harrison, co-lead of the Relay for Life organizing committee, said she has been told the city might not continue to offer the group discounted park rental.

The city significantly reduces its rental fee to Relay for Life for Copper Sky, to $1,000 this year from about $4,000.

That does not bode well for Relay for Life remaining at Copper Sky, according to Harrison.

“So, next year, we might have to find a new place to have our event because we cannot afford to spend $4,000 to rent the space,” Harrison said.

Nathan Ullyot, city parks and recreation director, clarified that the city did not create a policy against issuing fee waivers.

“Rather the city no longer has a fee-waiver policy,” he said. “Instead, the city has a discounted non-profit rate, which is lower than a standard commercial group rate.  The city is generally supportive of any event that serves the public.”

One of Relay for Life’s biggest supporters is Mayor Nancy Smith, a breast-cancer survivor. Smith is now six years cancer-free.

“I have been involved since the very first one,” Smith said. “Little did I know that five years later I was going to encounter cancer myself. After that, I made sure Relay stayed, and made sure the city was a sponsor. I took on the survivor luncheon, and we invite anyone from the city who is a cancer survivor. We get about 100 people who come just from the city.”

Awareness events, such as Relay for Life, support people who have been diagnosed, including metastatic breast cancer. Those events also educate people about breast-cancer risk factors, stress the importance of regular screening and raise money for breast-cancer research to continue developing and improving those medical and therapeutic advances.

Smith said councilmembers may make personal donations or contribute from the $7,000 discretionary fund they receive annually. She said part of her contribution is from personal finances and part from her discretionary fund.

During its 12 years in Maricopa, Relay has raised more than $500,000. This year, the goal is $25,000, Harrison said.

“We are currently sitting at $8,289,” Harrison said. “While we know we have a couple-thousand coming from the ‘Round Up at the Register’ from Ace Hardware and we will have another couple-thousand from the vendor-booth fees at the event, we still need more.”

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Harrison added that while Relay for Life still is the leading fundraiser for breast-cancer awareness in Maricopa, participation has waned.

“Over the 12 years Relay has been here, registration has gone down every year,” Harrison said. “We would love to have more teams register. The saying for Relay is, ‘Cancer doesn’t sleep, so we don’t either,’ meaning if we had an overnight event, someone from your team should always be walking.”

Relay for Life initially was an overnight event, a 24-hour continuous relay walk.

Because of reduced participation, though, it has been cut to eight hours. Organizers cannot justify the expense of renting the park overnight. Instead, they have reinvented it as a family festival, hoping to attract greater participation.

Harrison said about 500 people attended last year.

“That number just makes me sad,” Harrison said. “Maricopa has so many people and is growing so fast, yet they don’t come out to support such a great cause. I know some of it is people aren’t aware of the event, and we are doing better over the past two years to advertise it.

“When I go to the Salsa Night Market, or any city event, really, and see the thousands of people that attend, I want that.”

She points out that Relay for Life has everything other events in town have, including entertainment, vendor booths and food trucks. It also has activities others don’t, such as raffles, silent auction, games for kids and adults, bounce houses and face painting. Parking is free at Relay for Life.

Local businesses help sponsor and are primary financial contributors through cash contributions, sponsorships or in-kind donations of goods or services.

InMaricopa is the largest in-kind sponsor, contributing $5,000 in advertising space to promote the Relay. Vincent Manfredi, Maricopa vice mayor and general manager of InMaricopa, said the investment is worth every penny.

“A prosperous community is one of InMaricopa’s values, and it is an honor to support Maricopa Relay for Life’s awesome volunteers in their effort to celebrate cancer survivors and caregivers,” Manfredi said.

This year’s sponsors include Northern Lights Therapy & Broken Crayons, Harrah’s (through Caesars Foundation), Breez Creations, Halo Inspections, Councilmember Amber Liermann, Wildcat Landscape Supply and Mayor Smith, according to Harrison.


Editor’s note: Vincente Manfredi is co-owner of InMaricopa.