Relay For Life experiencing setbacks in NWO


Two cancelled Relay For Life events in northwestern Ontario and a drastic drop in funds raised in Red Lake this year point to a common occurrence in volunteer-run events: burnout.

Relay events were cancelled in Kenora and Red Rock due to low registration levels. These two communities now join Dryden and Sioux Lookout, who also opted out of Relay events.

“I think with every community it’s different. Sometimes there is burnout from committee members or even from teams,” says Maria Cabral, manager for Northwestern Communities at the Canadian Cancer Society, Northwestern Region. “Throughout northwestern Ontario, we were scheduled to have eight events this year, we are now down to six.”

Relay still took place in Red Lake, Atikokan, Rainy River, Fort Frances, Thunder Bay, and Pickle Lake.

But due to a drop in participation, the Relay For Life in Red Lake raised $60,000 in 2015 in comparison to $110,000 raised in 2014.

“This year we did for sure see a decline in the number of teams and the number of participants,” says Jennifer Thurbide, Relay committee chair.

Thurbide believes this was caused by a combination of things, including the big time commitment for younger families and the increase in fees by the Canadian Cancer Society.

“There was an increase in the fees and the fee structure, and there was an increase in how much participants were required to raise. The feedback we got back from the community was that those things definitely had an impact on whether people decided to participate,” explains Thurbide.

Cabral says the increase in fees as the event got closer was put in place to encourage early registration and fundraising.

The local committee responsible for organizing the Red Lake Relay also experienced losses this year.

“Volunteer burnout is a huge issue in this community. From a committee perspective, that has definitely happened. We lost about half of our committee between December and February,” notes Thurbide, who will be stepping down as chair of the committee this year.

“We are all there for a reason, we all have a direct connection with the Canadian Cancer Society and cancer itself, so it’s something that we all believe in, but we have to decide if Relay itself is something that we want to do again.”

Though Thurbide says it may be time to rethink the structure of Relay, such as turning it into a six-hour event versus 12-hour or taking a cue from Dryden and its Colours of Hope 5K, she still sees a future for the event in Red Lake.

“Is Relay done in Red Lake? Probably not, but there needs to be more participation within the planning for it to continue the way it has. Anyone who wants to come out and find out what it takes to put on a Relay event should contact the committee members and talk to us because we could always use more help.”

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