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Brandeis Relay for Life: raising funds and healing together

On Sat. March 26 at 5 p.m., student organizers hosted Relay For Life of Brandeis University, a fundraising event put on as an extension of the American Cancer Society to raise money for cancer research. Brandeis Relay For Life is run by a group of students with a passion for cancer awareness who have been working towards raising their current yearly goal of 20 thousand dollars. This year marks the first in-person Relay the club has been able to put on since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Brandeis Hoot spoke to club organizers, members and event participants about the occasion. “It was very exciting to have an event in person after not being able to have one for two years because of COVID,” stated Sasha Skarboviychuk (GRAD), co-Food-and-Sponsorship Chair for Brandeis Relay. “A lot of the team were people who have been on it this whole time, and it was really great to finally be able to hang out in person.” Event Lead, Natalie Sadek ’23, had similar thoughts. Sadek told the Hoot, “I was really excited to finally have an in-person event for Relay this year. After two years of COVID, most of campus is not really aware of what Relay is, but I am proud of our team for bringing this together and back to campus.”

The event was hosted at Gosman Sports and Convocation Center and utilized numerous campus and greater-Waltham resources such as student groups, donated food and volunteers from Brandeis Public Safety. “It really does have a lot of work and time that goes into it,” Skarboviychuk remarked, stating that she and other members of Brandeis Relay For Life “[went] to more restaurants than I can count, called even more than that, to try to secure food donations for the event.” The efforts put in by all students involved were not in vain, as the event had food courtesy of AK’s Pizza and Prime Deli as well as a volunteer performance by Brandeis improv comedy group Bad Grammer. The other co-Food-and-Sponsorship-Chair, John Fornagiel ’22, had a special shout out for their food sponsors, “They are always so willing to help us out,” Fornagiel mentioned of Prime Deli and AK’s. “For all of the time that I have been the food and sponsorships chair for Relay For Life, that is three years now, they have always been a huge supporter of ours and are always willing to donate food for our cause. We know that if all else fails, we will always have their support,” Fornagiel enthused.

Brandeis Relay’s itinerary consisted of opening ceremonies, followed by the survivor lap and a lap with all participants around the indoor track. Participants also played games, such as cornhole, and listened to survivor speeches. 

The event was marked by the powerful Luminaria Ceremony, in which participants decorate and light up luminaria bags for those touched by cancer and take a moment of silence for those to whom the bags are dedicated. “The Luminaria ceremony was extremely touching,” noted Skarboviychuk, “seeing everyone light up their candles for those for whom they Relay, it really showed that even though we might feel alone in the suffering we go through, most people around us have gone through similar experiences.” 

Thomas Pickering ’23, another member of Brandeis Relay For Life, told The Hoot similarly, “Relay is one of those few events at Brandeis that unites the campus.” Unification surrounding such a terrible disease is what makes this event important for students beyond the fundraising itself. “Everyone has had cancer impact their lives at one point or another,” Pickering stated, “and seeing the community help to raise money during fundraisers and seeing all the names on the luminaria bags proves how deeply invested Brandeisians are in fighting cancer and making sure others can have the outcomes we have all hoped for.” 

Student participants and fundraisers have many different reasons for Relaying, as seen on the Brandeis Relay For Life Instagram account. Many of these reasons come from a personal connection to those who have experienced cancer. Student Matt Colbert ’23 wrote in a post on their Instagram, “Cancer has negatively affected several members of my family, and I would do anything to help stop its spread.” Sydney D’Amaddio ’23 told The Hoot, “I participate because I watched my great aunt battle leukemia growing up, and last summer I interned at a hospital working with pediatric cancer patients…” D’Ammadio “found their adversity to be incredibly inspiring.” 

Top individual fundraiser for the event, Alex Mindich ’22, explained to the Hoot that he has been a part of Relay For Life since high school largely because his mother is a breast cancer survivor. “I know that I am one of the lucky ones in that regard,” Mindich stated. “I have a few friends who have lost parents to cancer, so this is an event that means a lot to me as a way of being able to help other families overcome cancer and hopefully prevent it one day.”

Brandeis Relay For Life raised a total of $11,960.85 of their 20 thousand dollar goal. The top three team donations came from Phi Kappa Psi, The Sammy Supporters of Gamma Chi and Brandeis Women’s Basketball donating $2,599, $1,693 and $1,551, respectively. Top individual donors were Mindich, Isaac Fischer ’23 and Hannah Rubin ’23, who donated one thousand dollars, $604 and $460, respectively. Although the event itself is over, students are still able to donate to the goal on their Relay website


Editor’s Note: News editor Victoria Morrongiello is the Event Lead of Relay for Life and did not contribute to the writing or editing of this article. Fornagiel, Pickering and Skarboviychuk are editors on The Hoot and did not contribute to the editing of this article.

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