By Mary Heyl

On Saturday, June 6, Relay for Life of Cattaraugus County is taking place at Ellicottville Central School. Starting at 11 a.m., Relay for Life teams will begin walking around the track to raise money and awareness for the American Cancer Society (ACS), an organization for which they have been raising money all year. Cancer survivors and individuals whose family and friends have been affected by cancer will be walking in support of each other and countless others, one step at a time.

This year marks the 30th year of the ACS Relay for Life, an event that began with just one person and is now an international movement. In May 1985, Dr. Gordy Klatt walked and ran around a track in Tacoma, Washington, for 24 hours, raising $27,000 for the American Cancer Society. The following year, he was joined by more than 300 people in his overnight fundraising event, and the Relay for Life was born!

Relay for Life of Cattaraugus County is also a part of this great history, as individuals throughout Ellicottville and surrounding communities have been forming teams for more than 25 years. Committee Co-Chair Sherry Charlesworth has participated for five years and is looking forward to another successful event in 2015.

On the day of the event, team members commit to taking turns walking and/or running around the ECS track from 11 a.m. to midnight on Saturday, June 6. But the work begins long before the day of the event, as teams form months in advance and raise money through fundraisers and pledges of support from friends, family and co-workers. Charlesworth notes, though, that teams are still being formed; those who would like to put a team together can visit to create a personal page for their team and seek the sponsorship of friends and family. There is no minimum number of people required to form a team, so groups large and small are welcome to participate!

This year, Charlesworth said the local event’s goal is to raise $25,000.  In years past, teams have held spaghetti dinners, yard sales, bake sales, dress-down days at work, raffles and “cow-plop bingo,” a Western New York favorite.

On Saturday, May 2 there will be two fundraisers taking place: a Boot Drive in the Village of Ellicottville and a Kentucky Derby Party at The Barn Restaurant. Then on Sunday, May 31, Team “Walk this Way” is sponsoring a Car Show called Cruising Against Cancer at the Cattaraugus County Fairgrounds in Little Valley.

According to Charlesworth, each year is memorable, as she has gotten to know the stories of many cancer survivors and caregivers through Relay for Life.

At the Opening Ceremony, one individual is recognized as the honored survivor who leads the Survivor Lap, which is walked by all survivors in attendance. Following this is the Caregivers Lap, which recognizes those who dedicate themselves to helping loved ones in their battle with cancer. Throughout the rest of the day and into the night, participants continuously walk the track and participate in other memorable laps, including one in memory of those who lost their fight.

Charlesworth explained that each team hosts a “campsite” that offers different fun activities for people to participate in. Lots of delicious food is available for sale during the day, as well. And Relay for Life of Cattaraugus County Committee hosts a special luncheon for cancer survivors.

After dark, a Luminary Ceremony is held to remember loved ones lost to cancer, honor survivors and support those whose fight continues. Relay participants dedicate bags to someone who has been touched by the disease, place them around the track and light a candle inside each one.

“The Luminary Ceremony is probably the most moving part of Relay for me,” Charlesworth said, as people walk in silence amid the luminaries.

Charlesworth encourages community members to get involved with Relay for Life, even if they aren’t able to participate on the day of the event. By taking part in the various fundraisers throughout the year, community members can help Relay for Life of Cattaraugus County reach its fundraising goal. And, community members can make financial contributions by donating to Ellicottville’s participants, teams or events, or to learn about company matching gifts at

For more information, contact Laura Oakes, community manager of the Eastern Division of Relay for Life, at, or visit