May 2010

Party with a Purpose - Family-Friendly Sleepover to Benefit the American Cancer Society

Author: Linda S. Hopkins

If it’s been a while since you pulled an all-nighter, start getting some extra zzz’s and prepare to party from dusk to dawn at the 2010 Relay for Life. The theme of this year’s family-friendly sleepover is “Rock Around the Clock,” and organizers are busy making sure that’s exactly what happens at the annual fundraiser for the American Cancer Society to be held at Honey Horn, starting Friday, May 7 at 6 p.m. and ending Saturday, May 8 at 7 a.m.

“We’re going back to the old tradition of having something going on the entire time, from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m.,” said Mike Sanz, local educator and co-chair of the event. “Over the past few years, until around 11 o’clock, things went really well, and then it just petered out. We’re trying to get back to a family-focused event where families come and spend the night,” he explained.

If your eyes get heavy or the little ones get fussy, naps are encouraged; but according to Sanz, there will be plenty of entertainment worth staying awake for, including incredible music.

“In the past, we’ve had one entertainment group. This year, we’ve appealed to the community of entertainers, and we have a number of them,” he said. As of press time, the lineup includes Target, The Headliners, The Beagles, Chris Stevers, and Lavon Stevens. Also performing will be the Out of the Blue Choir from Hilton Head Island High School and the Hilton Head Choral Society’s youth choir, among others.

In addition to the music, there will be a variety of booths serving food and offering activities, including inflatables, a Wii station and more. Contests and games include the annual Miss Relay “beauty” contest in which men dress up as women and vie for the title via their donation buckets; the ridiculous tourist contest (think black socks and sandals); trivial pursuit; and the peanut butter sandwich relay, to name a few.

Starting at midnight, there will be a special walk every half hour—a pajama walk, crazy hat walk, backwards walk, military walk—14 different themes, according to Sanz. “We do it all night, because cancer never sleeps. And for anyone who is sick, nighttime is the worst time,” he said.

“There are things to entertain people all night, no matter how old or young or sophisticated,” said Nancy Wellard, community income manager for the American Cancer Society. “Like they say about our weather, ‘If you don’t like it, wait a minute.’”


When you think of a relay, chances are you remember hopping across a field in a burlap sack or having your leg tied to someone else’s for an awkward three-legged jaunt. The good news is Relay for Life does not require any special equipment, coordination or athletic skill. All you have to do is show up.

Cindy Wood, event co-chair, volunteered to help with the relay last year after she learned that it wasn’t a run. “I’m an exercise-crazy person, but I run nowhere!” she said.

“There’s nobody who can’t do relay,” Wellard reiterated. “You don’t have to play golf or tennis or run or walk. If you want to sit in a rocking chair all night, you can do that. We want everybody there.”

It doesn’t cost anything to attend, said Sanz, explaining that most of the fundraising is accomplished prior to the event. There is a small charge for food and certain activities, but entry to the event is free.


Relay for Life is more than just a fundraiser. It’s a life-changing experience. At the relay, every person in the community has a chance to celebrate, remember, and fight back—to be a part of this worldwide movement to end cancer.

Relay starts with a survivors lap, an inspirational time when survivors are invited to circle the track together and help everyone celebrate the victories we’ve achieved over cancer. According to the American Cancer Society Web site, 11 million cancer survivors will celebrate birthdays this year. That’s a sign of progress and proof that a world with more birthdays is possible.

After dark, the night is brightened by the glow of illuminated bags, each bearing the name of someone who has battled cancer. Luminaria can be purchased for $10 and are decorated by the purchaser or by middle school kids, explained Sanz. “Last year we had 6,000 luminaria, and the goal is to sell 20 percent more this year,” he said.

“The luminaria are spectacular. Every candle represents a life of someone who is living it or surviving it or someone whose life was lost. It’s quite impactful,” said Wellard. “But in the meantime, it’s hopeful. And when the service is over, it’s party time again.”

In addition to the luminaria, “feet” are sold for $1 apiece and are symbolic of “walking the walk” with those who are fighting.

“We’re engaged in unapologetic fundraising. Too many lives are dependent on our work,” said Wellard. “Just about everything is donated, so all the money goes for the cause. The money we raise makes possible the programs we do locally as well as the research that will impact the future,” she continued. “We are the absolute dedicated stewards of the donated dollar. It goes to fight cancer. That’s it.”


Each of the organizers shares a personal passion for the cause, but the truth is, it’s everybody’s story. “Everybody has been affected [by cancer] in some way,” said Wood, who lost her husband to cancer four years ago.

Sanz, who lost his father to Hodgkin’s disease (a cancer of the lymphatic system) when he was five and his dad was 27 years old, is dedicated to raising cancer awareness as well as teaching young people an important lesson. “I’ve been an educator for 21 years—teacher, principal, coach. I always focused on teaching kids about giving back to the community,” he said. “It’s important to teach them to give back and not look for rewards other than what’s in their heart and in their mind. It’s simply the right thing to do.”

According to Wellard, who lost both her dad and her husband to cancer and is currently engaged in a personal battle against lymphoma, passion trumps everything, including the economy. “We’re trying to impact cancer in the most impressive way,” she said. “If you don’t have to be at a wedding or a funeral in Oil Trough Arkansas, you better be at our relay—because it makes a difference.”

For more information regarding the relay or to make a contribution, visit or contact Mike Sanz at (843) 422-9793. For information on the American Cancer Society, visit For immediate cancer support or to connect with a professional, call (800)-ACS-2345.


2010 Relay for Life honors Hilton Head Island hospitality icon

Hilton Head Island’s 2010 Relay for Life has been named in memory of longtime Hilton Head Island restaurateur, Pierce Lowrey, who lost his battle with cancer October 20, 2009. Lowrey, who along with his wife, Bonnie, founded The Lowrey Group, a catering company and group of popular island restaurants, is considered an icon of the hospitality business and one of the business leaders who helped Hilton Head emerge as a successful world-class destination.

According to Bonnie, what first appeared as a small spot on his nose was an aggressive skin cancer that eventually took the life of her beloved husband. “No one ever thought it would be anything like this. Nobody thinks of skin cancer as a killer. There was no real reason for it,” she said. “I think the doctors did everything they possibly could. But even at the end, we were surprised.”

Although the intention is not to name the relay for an individual each year, Cindy Wood, co-chair, suggested honoring Lowrey. Remembering his kindness and generosity, she said, “He was such a wonderful man and such an inspiration. He set the standard for the service community.”

“People really need to know about cancer—it doesn’t care who you are. It’s just a minefield,” said Nancy Wellard of the American Cancer Society. “We can’t let it continue. When you have someone who has been so important to the community, this is a way to raise awareness.”

“I’m thrilled that there are so many people who recognize what a terrific guy he was,” said Bonnie, emphasizing that what’s most important is spreading the word about cancer. “Cancer knows no boundaries. It’s nondiscriminatory. In medical science, we know some things, but we don’t know it all,” she said. Citing the importance of potentially lifesaving research, she added, “That’s what makes events like this relay so important.”

Bonnie says she will be at the relay all night and that friends, family and restaurant staff members will be coming and going. “The organizers have done an incredible job. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an event so well-planned,” she said. “It’s going to be a great, fun evening.”

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