For the second year in a row, area elementary school students are getting involved in Relay for Life.
This is because students at Frewsburg and Falconer central schools are participating in a new program called Art Beating Cancer.
This year's American Cancer Society Relay for Life of Southern Chautauqua County will take place at Frewsburg High School from noon to midnight June 8-9. The event is a way of recognizing loved ones who have survived cancer, while remembering those who lost the battle. Specific individuals are honored by the lining of white paper luminaria bags, bearing the names of these loved ones, along the track. Each bag contains a candle. At dusk, the candles are lit during the event's luminaria ceremony to symbolize hope and courage.
Students of Tom O’Brien’s art class at Robert H. Jackson Elementary School show off their decorated luminaria bags, which will be on display during this year’s Relay for Life event at Frewsburg High School on Saturday.
"We are so excited that we are able to engage the youth in this project," said Michael Porpiglia, senior director of Relay for Life's Eastern Division. "It's a great opportunity for them to not only learn a little bit about what cancer is, but to also take part in fighting back against the disease by raising awareness with their artwork. They are an important part of finishing the fight the American Cancer Society started 100 years ago."
According to Dina Telford, universal prekindergarten teacher at Temple Elementary School, educating students about cancer and its prevention, is an important step in their development.
"I think there's not one child in either district who hasn't been touched (by cancer) in one way, shape or form," Telford said. "So, the goal of the program is to start them at an early age so they can understand what needs to happen in order for them to be preventative. Also, to start them early on getting them involved in fundraising and volunteering for a good, healthy cause."
It is in the decoration and dedication of the luminaria bags that the elementary students have the opportunity to participate.
Through the Art Beating Cancer program, the elementary students at both districts are supplied with the bags - one for each student - to be decorated in their art classes. There, they are taught the meaning of the bags, and the significant role they play in Relay for Life. They then decorate them with messages of hope, remembrance and encouragement.
"Awareness is the most important part of the ABC campaign," said Tom O'Brien, art teacher at Robert H. Jackson Elementary School. "The students know about the luminaria bags, and have seen what they look like when they are lit up in the dark. We talked about what that means, to light up the darkness with our art.
"Our campaign at Frewsburg was, 'Cancer Can't Walk the Walk,'" he added. "Our community is not going to let cancer win. We are going to do all we can to help ourselves and help others fight cancer. We want to remember to do three things for Relay for Life: celebrate survivors, fight back by raising funds and awareness, and remember our loved ones."
Between Telford's UPK class and each of Aleida Foulk's art classes at Temple and Fenner Elementary School, approximately 600 Falconer students decorated luminaria bags. Foulk pointed to the recent diagnosis of a Falconer High School student with B-Cell lymphoblastic leukemia as a rallying point for some of the students.
"A lot of the kids wrote names of people in their families that had different kinds of cancer," she said. "Here in Falconer, we have a student at the high school named Sydney Kresconko. So, even if a lot of kids didn't have a grandparent, parent or family friend who had cancer, we all kind of know Syd's story."
According to her mother, Leslie, Syd had an MRI in February of last year after experiencing muscle pain. The MRI showed an 8-inch tumor on her spine branching out into her chest. Four days after its discovery, the tumor was surgically removed. After doing follow-up MRIs every three months, a baseball-size tumor was found in her kidney in November. Syd had to undergo bi-weekly chemotherapy sessions while receiving in-home treatment from The Visiting Nurses Association.
Prior to Relay for Life's luminaria ceremony, which will take place at 9:30 p.m., the students' bags will be displayed on a clothesline around the Frewsburg High School track. At approximately 5 p.m., the bags will be taken down, filled with sand and have candles placed in them.
"It's just a very solemn way to honor and remember people who have passed from cancer, and to honor survivors as well," said Telford. "Another focus, from the cancer society's standpoint, is that we need to also honor and remember the caregivers. Without those caregivers, it is an even more difficult road."