Groups, volunteers gear up for Relay’s celebration of life

PUNXSUTAWNEY — There are festivals for mountain laurel, Punxsutawney Phil and even fall leaves, but this weekend, there will be a festival in Barclay Square that celebrates life: The American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life.

Not only does the relay celebrate many cancer survivors, it also promotes research to find a cure.

As of last week, teams have raised $45,000. The ultimate goal is $78,000.
This year’s theme is “Disco — Stayin’ Alive.”

Jennifer Pavlak, who co-chairs of the Punxsy event with Robyn Shaffer, said the mission statement defines what it’s all about: “The American Cancer Society Relay For Life represents the hope that those lost to cancer will never be forgotten, that those who face cancer will be supported and that one day cancer will be eliminated.”

Pavlak said it’s not too late to enter a team or volunteer to help. Even as late as Saturday, teams or individuals may sign up to help.

Shaffer said currently, there are 26 teams and 92 survivors planning to attend.

This year, there is an individual who will turn 40 in 2011, and has battled cancer for the last 32 years.

“He was diagnosed for the first time at eight years old,” Shaffer said. “It has been an ongoing, constant battle with cancer over the last 32 years.”

Pavlak said the relay is good for not only those battling cancer, but it also serves as one large support group.

“You can’t really appreciate what the relay is all about until you attend it,” Shaffer said.

Dr. Jose Silva, from the Medical Center Clinic at Punxsutawney Area Hospital, will read the names of the cancer survivors during the event, and there will be a Power Point projection bearing all the survivors’ names on the screen on the Barclay Square bandstand.

As part of the preparation for Saturday’s event, there will be entertainment from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday in the park.

The relay begins with a Survivors’ Lap, an inspirational time when survivors are invited to circle the perimeter of Barclay Square and help everyone celebrate victories over cancer.

The Survivors’ Lap is an emotional example of how relay participants create a world with more birthdays like those of each individual walking around the park, Shaffer said.

The Knights of Columbus, Masons and Punxsutawney-based Pennsylvania State Police will escort survivors during the walk while they are saluted by the Knights and their swords, Pavlak said.

In the early evening, there will be a special dinner for survivors.
“This is what the Relay is all about: It’s the survivors,” Pavlak said.
Pavlak said after dark, a luminaria ceremony honors those who have been touched by cancer and remembers loved ones lost to the disease.

Candles are lit inside bags filled with sand, each one bearing the name of a person touched by cancer, and participants often walk a lap in silence.

During the day, there will be music provided by a DJ and live entertainment, as well as food, auctions and raffles.

Pavlak and Shaffer thank everyone who volunteered and or helped with this year’s Relay for Life.

“We couldn’t do it without them,” Pavlak said.

For more information regarding the Punxsy Relay, contact Pavlak at 849-7001, Shaffer at 715-2829 or visit