21st annual Relay for Life unites community in hope for a cure

Students, parents and teachers from 35 Brooklyn public and private schools were among those who came together to fight cancer at the 21st Relay for Life of Brooklyn at Poly Prep Country Day School on Saturday, June 22 in the place where it all started 21 years ago.

The Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst and Dyker Heights communities joined forces to help raise money for the American Cancer Society, with a portion of the funds earmarked for pediatric cancer research.

Hundreds of survivors, their families and friends crowded the Poly Prep field to help support the fight against cancer via a signature event of the American Cancer Society.

The event recognized and celebrated local cancer survivors with a survivors ceremony, and honored those who had lost their cancer battle with a remembrance ceremony. 

The opening ceremony started at noon and was followed by Zumba with Maryann Greco Torre, a teacher at P.S. 186. “It’s that time of year again where we will be shakin’ it for a cure at Relay For Life,” said Torre. The survivor ceremony followed at 2 p.m.

Then, the McKinley Junior High School Band took the stage, followed later by students from P.S. 264. The event also featured a performance from the Dyker Singers and a K-Spirit Tae Kwon Do demonstration. The luminaria ceremony and the fight back ceremony capped off the day’s events.

Other schools whose communities took part in the Relay included P.S. 200, P.S. 127, Fontbonne Hall Academy and P.S. 204 whose participants wore “Stage IV Needs More” t-shirts.

Event organizers included Renee Regnier, community manager for the ACS; Amy Procida-Christodoulou, volunteer event chair for Relay for Life; and committee members Sally La Terra and Elaine Delaney.

There were booths with food and games set up by the schools, community groups and civic organizations. Elected officials who stopped by included State Sen. Andrew Gounardes, Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, City Councilmember Justin Brannan and Brooklyn Conservative Party Chair Fran Vella-Marrone.

Brannan spoke on a personal note. “I lost my father to cancer, so as someone who’s dealt with cancer in my family, this is a very, very meaningful event and a great tradition in our neighborhood,” he told this paper.

Relay for Life began in 1985 when Dr. Gordon “Gordy” Clapp walked and ran around a track in Tacoma, Washington in order to raise awareness and funding for his local cancer charity.

Malliotakis received the Honorary Chair Award.

“This has been a tradition for the schools in this community for over 20 years and I am just so honored to be named this year’s honorary chair,” Malliotakis told this paper. “It’s so important to engage our young people in civics. What we are doing today is helping to raise money for children with pediatric cancer and I hope this fantastic event continues for another 20 years.”

The honorary survivor was Daena Cavallino and the honorary caregivers were Matthew and Sophia Cavallino. The Civic Service Award honoree was Capt. Anthony Longobardo, commanding officer of the 62nd Precinct.

“It’s actually a very, very great honor to be here today and I’m excited to bring awareness to this great cause.” Longobardo told this paper.

All honorees were recognized during the opening ceremony. This year’s Luminaria honoree was Kaitlyn Bernhardt, a student who attended Bishop Kearney High School and lost her battle with cancer on the same day as last year’s Relay for Life. The Luminaria ceremony at twilight honored Kaitlyn’s family.

All money raised goes to research and patient services that ACS offers to families in Brooklyn and beyond, according to Ashley Engelman, communications director for ACS greater New York City area.

Destin DeFeo, community coordinator for P.S. 682, called Relay a wonderful event. “We all have survivors that we are here to support,” said DeFeo. “Cancer has touched all of our lives and we are all here to do our part to get rid of this horrible disease.”

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