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'Lights, Camera, Cure' theme of annual Relay For Life of Norwin

| Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, 1:06 a.m.
Jim Whalen Jr., a six-year, two-time cancer survivor, puts his handprint on a survivor sheet that will hang at this year's Relay For Life of Norwin event. Gathered around him are survivor committee chair Grant Funk, Hope Whalen, Penny Whalen and team membership development chairperson Donna Duncan. Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Behind the camera at the photo booth, Lisa Hennigan captures all smiles on Dominic Granata, 8, Olivis Granata, 6, Maryruth Byers and Diane Granata at the Relay For Life of Norwin kickoff event. Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Zack Waugh and Tyler Funk, both 11, look over valentines that Hahntown and Hillcrest Intermediate students made. They will be distributing them to local hospice companies in North Huntingdon Township and through UPMC Shadyside's Hillman Cancer Center. Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News

Relay For Life of Norwin organizers want to make this year's effort a record breaker.

“I hope so,” event chair Kelly Fennessy said at Friday night's kickoff event at the Norwin Community Resource Center.

The ninth annual event for raising awareness and funding for the American Cancer Society is scheduled for July 13 and 14 at Norwin High School and Knights Stadium.Last year, the relay welcomed 43 teams made up of cancer survivors, families, caregivers, local faith-based groups, businesses and clubs. Collectively, the teams raised more than $80,000, short of the $97,000 goal.

“We had some factors last year, one of which being the terrible, horrible thunderstorm that struck Relay night,” Fennessy said. “This year, we know that everybody's re-energized and ready to run at this again. This year we'd like 50 teams and we'd love to raise $101,000. We'd like to break that $100,000 mark this year in Norwin.”

This year's relay theme is “Lights, Camera, Cure.”

Friday's kickoff was American Cancer Society staff partner Christine Yocum's first event for Relay For Life of Norwin.

“This is awesome,” Yocum said. “For this being the turnout for the kickoff, I think that the actual day of the event should be amazing. All the team captains that I've met have seemed real committed and dedicated and really excited. I have high expectations.”

The event featured team signups, a photo booth, a mission and advocacy section, a luminaria table, a Chinese auction, bake sale, and a new feature: Cancer survivors and caregivers got a chance to paint their hands a color representing the type of cancer with which they or their family has dealt and put their handprints on a giant white sheet.

It's an idea originally started by the Duncan Financial Group eight years ago.

Donna Duncan, Duncan team captain and Relay team membership development chairperson, said her husband John Duncan is a cancer survivor and she wanted to do something showing support for him and others.

“Our original sheet that's up there has just the cancer survivors,” Donna Duncan said. “We decided to include the caregivers because they're a real integral part in the cancer survivors' survival ... This year, we brought (the original sheet) to the kickoff so that everybody would be able to see it.”

Donna Duncan said she brought the sheet idea to a Relay meeting and everyone loved it.

Relay received an early boost this year from two Hillcrest Intermediate School students. Fourth-grader Zachary Waugh and sixth-grader Tyler Funk started the Purple Fighter campaign to observe national World Cancer Day, and sold purple T-shirts with pink boxing gloves. Shirts sold out by Monday. They raised about $900 for the American Cancer Society and the Relay For Life of Norwin.

“It was hard at first, but then it started getting easier after we stared figuring everything out,” Zachary said. “It was fun helping out. Tyler and I do Relay For Life. We've been doing it a couple years, so we decided to do something nice to raise more money for them and the cancer society.”

“We could not be more pleased with what they were able to accomplish,” Fennessy said. “Those young men are phenomenal, something that we never could have done without them.”

Since its beginnings in 1985, Relay For Life has developed from one man running around a track for 24 hours to a full-fledged international event taking place in more than 5,000 communities and 20 countries around the globe with nearly 4 million walkers in the United States alone.

“I think pretty much everyone knows someone who has been touched by cancer,” Fennessy said. “Even if it's not you personally, you maybe know a friend or a neighbor who has been diagnosed, who has somebody who's been diagnosed. That kind of universal truth that everyone knows somebody who has gone through a battle makes a community want to come together and really do whatever we can to end cancer ... Until then we'll continue to do what we do. We'll continue to raise money for research, for advocacy, for programs that the American Cancer Society does, and all of that really unites a community.”

Other kickoff events included Smiles for Grandma, a scarf-collecting effort started by Sunset Valley Elementary fourth-grader Madison Buscemi.

Madison's grandmother Jerilyn Johnson was diagnosed with leukemia in December.

“My parents were talking about stuff they could do and I wanted to help,” Madison said.

Madison began collecting scarves during a blood drive on Jan. 12.

She has collected approximately 600 scarves so far, and will deliver them to UPMC Shadyside's Hillman Cancer Center on Friday, Madison's mother, Kelly Buscemi, said.

Madison said she's happy to collect scarves, and hopes they help a lot of cancer patients.

Scarf drop-off locations include Kings in Hempfield and North Versailles townships and Plum; The Queen's Beads in White Oak; New 2 You and Shear Perfection in Irwin; and The Head Shed in North Huntingdon Township.

Those who could not make the kickoff but would like to participate in the relay can register on the days of the event. More information is available online at

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965, or

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