By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian
Jackie Mullenax loves being involved in the Mannington Relay for Life.
In fact, she was a big force behind the creation of the event in Mannington four years ago.
Mullenax got involved with Relay because of her grandson Patrick O’Brien, of Bridgeville, Pa., who passed away July 27, 2009, from neuroblastoma.
O’Brien hadn’t had any previous symptoms, but woke up with a stomachache one day. After his family took him to the emergency room, they found out he had Stage 4 cancer, Mullenax said.
She said her grandson went through many treatments, and she spent a lot of time staying with him at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
“He grew up fast,” she said. “He was 6 years old when he was diagnosed, and he died when he was 8. He was a jewel. He was something else.”
Mullenax has also seen other family members struggle with cancer. She said she plans to stay active with Relay for Life as long as possible.
“I just think it’s great for the area,” she said. “(People) love it and they enjoy it and they want to talk about it.”
On Sunday afternoon, community members and volunteers like Mullenax, who is a team co-captain, gathered at the Mannington Church of Christ on Main Street for the kickoff event for the 2014 Mannington Relay for Life.
People could stop by to sign up to join a team or start their own team for the event, which will take place Friday, May 16, at Hough Park. This year’s theme is “Caring Hearts Wrapped around Relay,” said Stephanie Teets, who co-chairs the Mannington Relay for Life with Sandra Parenti.
Members from different committees were present Sunday, and individuals had the chance to register to help with those efforts. The organizers were especially looking for someone to lead the team recruitment and retention committee.
Some of the teams represented were the Blackshere Bandits, Scouting for the Cure, Helping Hands, First Christian Church, Jaws of Life, Sharing and Caring, and Jeff’s Crew.
Teets, who is also team captain of Scouting for the Cure, said teams have been selling items and holding raffles to raise money for the cause, and many events are being planned for the coming months.
The volunteers involved with the Mannington Relay for Life meet regularly at Veterans Corner on Market Street to discuss plans. Their next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 20, with a committee meeting at 6 p.m. and a team captains’ meeting at 7 p.m.
The group is organizing “Santa’s Lunch,” which is basically a baby-sitting service, for Saturday, Nov. 30, Teets said. This activity was started last year to give parents a safe place to drop off their children while they take care of their Christmas shopping. The kids can enjoy games, crafts and stories and meet Santa Claus. The time and location is to be determined.
Relay for Life will participate in the Mannington Christmas parade, which is Dec. 7 at 6 p.m., and is creating a float. The volunteers are also looking into the possibility of planning a couple’s dinner or dance for Valentine’s Day.
“We have a lot of cancer survivors right here in the community,” Teets said. “It’s our chance to give back to them and the caregivers. The person that you cared for all that time may be gone, but you still have those memories.”
Mannington Relay for Life starts at 6 p.m. on May 16 and lasts until 6 a.m. the following day.
“Every Relay is different, and that’s what makes them awesome, because they’re volunteer-driven events,” said Jill Zangari, Relay for Life specialist with the American Cancer Society.
She explained that the cancer survivors will kick off the event by making the first lap around the track, which is always a moving moment. Then family, friends and caregivers who supported those battling cancer will join the survivors for the next lap.
As the Relay continues, each team always has at least one person walking around the track, and they take turns walking the whole night. The teams also sponsor games and activities, and the participants enjoy telling their stories, Zangari said.
Teets said a Vera Bradley Basket Bingo is being planned for that day beginning at 10 p.m.
Luminaria bags, which are sold throughout the year, are decorated in honor of people who are currently fighting cancer or are cancer free, or in memory of those who lost their battle with cancer. During the luminaria ceremony, the white bags are placed all the way around the track and the candles inside them are lit, as people remember the purpose of Relay for Life, Zangari said.
The event wraps up with a closing ceremony on Saturday morning.
Zangari said more than 300 people — including 47 survivors — participated in the Mannington Relay for Life last year. The 19 teams raised almost $43,000.
“It’s a time for the community to celebrate, remember and fight back against cancer,” said Ryann Moore, Relay for Life specialist who is working with Marion County.
Interested individuals can register for the Mannington Relay for Life online at relay.org/manningtonwv.
Email Jessica Borders at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.