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Relay For Life team celebrates 2021 successes

NC retirement community has raised more than $2M during the last 25 years.

The fight against cancer has long been important to the residents of the St. James Plantation who have raised more than $2 million for ACS during the last 25 years. With their commitment to the cause, they were not going to let a pandemic slow them down. The Relay For Life team from the sprawling, active retirement community in Southport, NC, raised more than $210,000 last year for the Relay For Life of the Cape Fear Area – easily eclipsing the necessary $165,000 to qualify for ACS’ prestigious Hero of Research award.

On June 15 team members, pictured below, celebrated with food, a band and guest speakers at the Pavilion at St. James Planation their success of finishing in the top three fundraising teams out of 19,345 Relay For Life teams nationwide last year. Mike’s Garage Band, which played a benefit concert for the Relay For Life last year, provided the entertainment. The celebration also featured guest speakers Jon Evans, anchor for WECT News in Wilmington, and his wife Sheila, a breast cancer survivor.

The Hero of Research Award allowed the St. James Plantation team to name an existing post-doctoral fellowship research grant in honor of a loved one or their team. They chose to name a research project by Jess Hebert, PhD, at Stanford University, the St. James Community Research Project. The three-year grant studies the genetic determinants of immune evasion by metastatic lung cancer.

“The American Cancer Society was founded on a small group of people committed to saving lives,” said Rachel Urban, executive director in central and eastern North Carolina. “One hundred and eight years later, St. James is proof that, despite many obstacles, cancer caregivers and families are the most powerful force. Nothing is off limits for this group. We are so grateful for this team, this community and this group of individuals.”

“The St. James team had several team members lose their battle with cancer during 2020 and 2021,” said Liz Knapp, who has served as chair of the team for the last two years. “Their passing heightened our desire to have meaningful impact. When we learned of the Hero of Research grant award, we knew immediately it was something we wanted to strive for. Cancer has affected too many in our community.”

The St. James Plantation team of 46 community residents got creative – partnering with local businesses to host virtual wine tastings and dinners, two 5K events, a golf tournament, and a concert among their many fundraising activities. During a wine tasting with wine provided at a discounted price and sold as a fundraiser. The residents then logged on to their computers at a designated time and enjoyed their wine tasting “together” to enjoy a sense of community during a time of COVID-related isolation for many. They hosted a similar Italian dinner night in which a local restaurant provided dinner at a discounted cost, paired it with wine, and residents were able to dine “together” and enjoy a sense of community while raising money. Struggling local businesses benefited, as did the fight against cancer. 

“We live in a very, very giving community,” said Liz. “COVID, I think, pushed us to think out of the box and realize we couldn’t just do the same four or five things, and hope for the same results when people were not, at that time, holding gatherings. We had to think virtually, what else could we do to keep the fundraising alive without expecting 200 people to show up at an in-person event? Considering the fact that a lot of the local businesses were suffering, part of the conversation was ‘How do we support them while they’re supporting us at the same time? What’s a win-win?’ We tried to do things that would benefit the businesses while still making some money for us.”

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