Relay for Life of Chatham continues cancer fight despite recent setbacks

Posted 8/30/19

SILER CITY — “It did OK,” said Jeanetta Shamberger, speaking about the success of this year’s Relay for Life event.

Held in early May at Siler City’s Bray Park, proceeds from the 2019 …

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Relay for Life of Chatham continues cancer fight despite recent setbacks

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SILER CITY — “It did OK,” said Jeanetta Shamberger, speaking about the success of this year’s Relay for Life event.

Held in early May at Siler City’s Bray Park, proceeds from the 2019 fundraiser for cancer research totaled $27,000.

That figure, Shamberger acknowledged, is “down considerably” from previous years’ totals.

“It’s not what we were hoping for,” the longtime Relay for Life volunteer said. “Participation has gone down.”

It’s one of several challenges the local Relay effort has faced in recent years, said Shamberger.

“I’ve been doing Relay a long time,” said Shamberger, and she’s seen a lot of changes in the annual event, from changes of venue to dwindling numbers of participants and funds raised.

The problems began several years ago when the national economy took a hit.

“That had a big impact,” she said.

And Relay hasn’t fully recovered. Once comprising two independent units in Chatham County — an East Chatham Relay with an event at Northwood High School, and a West Chatham Relay, with an event at Jordan-Matthews High School — the two were combined a few years ago into a single event, held each spring in Siler City.

“We started noticing a big difference when the economy in our community declined,” said Shamberger.

A “good portion” of funds raised by Relay in past years came from local businesses; and “some of those businesses are nor even here anymore,” said Shamberger. “We once had three major poultry producers who contributed.”

And this had a double impact on the fundraising effort.

“Once the fundraising numbers weren’t there, participation started to dwindle down,” she said.

A change in Relay’s longtime venue also had an impact, Shamberger said.

In 2012, after years of consistently being held at the Phil E. Senter stadium at Jordan-Matthews High School, the location changed to Siler City’s Bray Park.

“We are so grateful and thankful to the Town of Siler City for opening their doors and being so gracious and helpful,” Shamberger said. “We are super-thrilled they’ve been so willing to support us.”

But the venue change, from a “real track” in 2011 and years prior to the public park henceforth, changed the feel of the event and wasn’t a welcome change for some Relay participants.

“Being on a real track is something a lot of people missed,” said Shamberger. “That’s one of the things I hear most often.”

This year’s Relay for Life event also coincided with the revived Siler City Chicken Festival, held the same weekend in early May.

“We were sort of competing with the Chicken Festival and I feel people made a choice,” said Shamberger. “That had an impact, too.”

The same struggling economy that impacted the local Relay also impacted the American Cancer Society, which had to “revamp and redo things because of the economy. They had to kind of scale back on what they could provide.”

The news isn’t all been bad, however. The American Cancer Society, while evolving with changing economic times, has also increased flexibility regarding how Relay for Life events are conducted.

Once required to be more than 12 hours, for example, with the local Relay effort an overnight event concluding the following morning, such time restrictions have been scaled back.

“They’ve changed the mindset, allowing each event to be its own thing,” Shamberger said. “They want to be in as many communities as they can.”

And Shamberger is still encouraged and inspired by the work Relay is doing for the cause for which it was created in 1985: fighting cancer.

“I’m encouraged,” said Shamberger. “For as long as cancer is here, we have to be here, too. Cancer discriminates against no one. All ages are affected. All cultures. We must come together and make a difference. We have to be optimistic.”

Shamberger said Relay for Life of Chatham County is open to possible new venues for future installments of the annual fundraising event, but plans are in place for next year’s Relay for Life, to be held again at Bray Park.

Shamberger also encourages more people in the community to join the Relay effort, inviting those interested to help other Relay volunteers “make a difference.” Shamberger can be reached at 919-548-4357; or e-mail her at

Randall Rigsbee can be reached at


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