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East County Wednesday, Sep. 9, 2020 1 year ago

Light for hope in Lakewood Ranch

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American Cancer Society reworks Relay for Life event in Lakewood Ranch.
by: Liz Ramos Staff Writer

River Club’s Bethany Lynch wants to remind people that even during a pandemic, cancer doesn’t stop.

Lynch, who is a senior community development manager for the American Cancer Society, is working with a few Lakewood Ranch residents and others to develop the first local Neighbors Unite event. It is a national event for which people purchase luminarias to light in front of their homes at the same time. The goal is to bring the community together to honor those impacted by cancer.

The Lakewood Ranch event will be held at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 20. 

The organizing group hopes to have luminarias light up the streets in different neighborhoods in Lakewood Ranch. If given permission, they would also like to place them at Lakewood Ranch High or Main Street at Lakewood Ranch, so people can drive through to see all the luminarias lit at the same time.

“What would be super cool is walking down my street or driving through River Club and seeing luminarias on every street,” Lynch said.

Luminarias cost $10 each and raise money for the American Cancer Society.

“I’m looking forward to uniting our neighborhoods,” said Tiffany Thornhill, a Harmony resident helping organize Neighbors Unite in Lakewood Ranch. “We’ll be getting people together and bringing awareness and highlighting the wonderful things the American Cancer Society is doing. We’re bringing it back into the forefront of people’s lives. We need something to look forward to, to celebrate and bring back positivity in our communities.”

The event replaces this year’s Relay for Life, which was originally scheduled for April, then moved to August and was postponed again until April 2021 because of COVID-19. 

At traditional Relay for Life events, participants raise money, and teams walk in shifts to represent a cancer survivor’s journey. Each event typically starts with a luminaria ceremony, at which participants light luminarias in honor of loved ones lost to cancer.

Lynch said the American Cancer Society is expecting a 50% decrease in funding due to COVID-19. Normally, it raises $54 million, which goes toward research  and helping cancer patients by providing resources, such as transportation to appointments or paying for a night at the hospital.

“We need to get out there and make an impact,” Lynch said. “We can’t let cancer win. Cancer hasn’t stopped, so neither can we. We have to get out there and keep cancer in the front of people’s minds, so they continue to fund the research and resources.”

Lynch and Thornhill are enlisting their daughters, Lilly Lynch and Tierney Thornhill, who are both sophomores at Lakewood Ranch High School, to sell and recruit people to sell luminarias.

“A lot of people depend on [Relay for Life] to happen yearly,” said Tierney Thornhill, who watched her mother participate in the event in prior years. “It’s something exciting for a lot of people, especially going to the event. You plan on it, you work on it, and it doesn’t feel real until you’re there. … It’s super cool seeing it all come together, and it just puts a smile on your face. When you go home, you feel accomplished and like you did something good.”

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