Teams are on the rise and working hard in preparation for Wilton’s 21st annual Relay For Life on Friday, June 8, from 4-11 p.m. at Wilton High School‘s track at Veterans Memorial Stadium.

Relay For Life is a national fundraising effort to support the American Cancer Society. Towns across the country host Relay events during which teams of people gather to honor loved ones lost to cancer, those who are fighting it, those who have survived it, and caregivers.

Relay events are fun and hopeful, filled with music, inspirational speakers and non-stop energy as team members take turns walking around a track or course for the full duration of the event to signify that cancer never takes a break and that cancer patients never stop fighting.

Grace Scinto, American Cancer Society staff partner and director of Wilton’s Relay For Life, said the number of teams formed so far for Wilton has already surpassed that of last year. Registration is on target to meet and hopefully exceed last year’s attendance of approximately 350 people and donations of $61,000.

Teams can be anyone:  groups of friends, families, employees, students, athletes. With fun names like Cancer Kickers, Hope Hustlers, Wackadoo and Purple Palooza, many teams form well in advance and work to raise funds through efforts such as soliciting donations and holding bake sales and car washes. Other teams form only a day or two in advance. “It’s never too late to form or join a team,” Scinto said. “We appreciate any support.”

Scinto encourages teams to register as soon as possible, ideally before June 4, when camp sites are assigned and free t-shirts are given to any team member who has raised more than $100. Information on forming, joining or supporting Wilton Relay teams is available online.

Wilton’s Relay For Life is festive with live music and the general public attending to show support. Teams each have a home base “camp site” where they enjoy each other’s company and run additional on-site fundraisers like raffles, silent auctions and sales of handmade items (jewelry, baked goods, etc.).

Teams may set up their camp sites and begin on-site fundraising at 4 p.m.. Opening ceremonies will begin at 6:30 p.m., followed by the first laps of honor around the track walked by cancer survivors and caregivers. Teams will then join in the walking until the Relay concludes at 11 p.m.. Organizers also hold a moving and symbolic luminary ceremony at 9:30 p.m..

Wilton’s Relay will also hold its annual Survivor and Caregiver Dinner from 5:30-6:30 p.m. at the event. A separate emailed RSVP is needed by June 1 for anyone interested in attending the dinner.

Scinto says the event wouldn’t be possible without the 30-plus volunteers who serve on the Wilton Relay planning committee: “This truly is a community event.”

Relay Team Highlight:  Middlebrook Relay For Life Club

Speaking of a team that works year-long to support Relay:  Middlebrook Middle School students have an after-school Relay For Life Club. Inspired and led by their teacher, John Priest, who faced his own cancer battle in 2015, the students started the club in September 2016. They meet biweekly throughout the school year to brainstorm and plan numerous fundraisers. Their participation significantly boosted attendance at last year’s Relay and will surely do so again on June 8.

“These kids are amazing,” says Priest, now three years cancer-free. “I really do nothing; it’s all them. They have so many great ideas. The club gets them thinking about marketing and advertising. They’re getting out in the community with their parents and learning how to ask local merchants for support.” Priest particularly cites sixth grader Jolene Massad for her many efforts that often impressively include spreadsheets: “She’s a machine! So many ideas. She’s a constant presence at my door.”

With the help of Lord & Taylor department store in Stamford, the Middlebrook Relay For Life Club runs two gift wrap stations there each year for the winter holidays (featuring Priest dressed as Buddy the Elf) and Valentine’s Day. They also sell Lord & Taylor coupon booklets, hold bake sales and work with Wilton merchants to collect donations from customers.

Priest thanks Wilton businesses for their generosity in working with his students. “They get it. They know it’s the right thing to do. It really speaks to the community.”

For more information on supporting this year’s Relay for Life, visit the Wilton Relay for Life online.