We’re less than 24 hours away from Relay for Life, the all-night festival of performances, contests, and junk food that happens to be one of Penn’s biggest fundraisers of the year. As the event draws near, competition among the top fundraising groups is heating up. Current top teams include MARCH for a cure, Circle K and Penn MERT and friends. Competition is even stiffer among individual participants, the top three of whom have already raised over $3,500 apiece. Since we happen to be chilling on a couch watching Grey’s Anatomy with Emily Siegel, the current first place fundraiser (for the time being, at least), we decided to get the scoop on all things Relay, from how to raise thousands to whether anyone actually gets any sleep during the event. (This year, Emily is serving as team leader for Penn MERT and friends.)
UTB: You were last year’s #1 fundraiser and you’re currently in first place again. Are you proud of being #1?
ES: I am. To be honest, but it’s not about numbers. This is my two cents. It’s hard to watch a disease take over people you love, and this is a way that I could fight back along with them. Three years ago when I started, I didn’t know whether I was going to be walking in honor of my family member or in memory of him. I’m unbelievably lucky that he’s going to be at the event with me this year, celebrating. He’s been there every year, actually.
UTB: How’d you manage to raise so much money?
ES: I’ve been doing stuff for the American Cancer Society since I was little. At Penn, I signed up to be a team leader my sophomore year and two weeks later, someone close to me was diagnosed with cancer. Each year, I send out a letter to basically everyone I know – family, friends, family friends — explaining what Relay for Life is and updating them on how my family member is doing. I’m lucky in that all three years, I’ve had good news to report. With my letter, I wanted to make everybody aware that cancer could happen to anyone. I send the letter out to so many people and so many people make donations big and small that it adds up to a generous amount. Donations of $10 and $20 add up quickly.
UTB: What do you look forward to most about Relay for Life?
ES: The visual of so many students coming together in Franklin Field — I can’t really explain it, it’s incredible. In the long run, we raise a lot of money, and it makes a huge difference. It’s just so carefree and it’s a great atmosphere. The Luminaria ceremony is an especially inspirational moment — it starts with the survivor lap, a lap around Franklin Field for survivors of cancer. After that, participants with family members or siblings who’ve had cancer are asked to join them. Next, participants with friends who have had cancer join the group, then friends of friends, and by the end, nearly every participant is walking the track together — it shows that all of us have been touched by cancer in one way or another and that we’re fighting it together.