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This UNC first-year has high hopes for the future of Relay for Life's presence at Carolina

Relay for Life reveals their yearly total of $54,950, all of which will go to the American Cancer Society. Photo by Anna Silver.

First-year Gabe Gordon has seen firsthand the impact one person can have on an entire community. 

“My mom always had hope. She always fought. She always said, ‘Come back tomorrow and we’ll try again,’” Gordon said, recalling his mother’s trademark perseverance. 

Gordon’s mother maintained this attitude during her battle with cancer, but she died in 2016.

To honor his mother, Gordon joined his local branch of Relay for Life and began to raise money for the American Cancer Society during his junior year of high school. During his first year of college, Gordon has made participating in Relay for Life of UNC a priority. 

Earlier this year at a Relay committee meeting, Gordon had the idea to reach out to his mother’s friends and family members asking them to donate to Relay in her memory. He began by retrieving the email addresses of people who were close with his mother. He sent out over 150 emails on the first night. By the next day, he had raised over $2,000. 

“It really all stems back to the connections my mom had, just how many people knew her, cared about her, and it’s not like I had to go door to door. All the support was already there,” Gordon said. 

In total, Gordon raised just under $7,000, which was included in the organization’s fundraising total of $54,950. The collective total was revealed on April 13 at Relay for Life of UNC’s annual Festival of Hope, an overnight event honoring those who have fought or are fighting cancer. 

Though Relay raises most of their money at other events throughout the year, the Festival of Hope is the emotional culmination of the team’s efforts. With the theme “cancer never sleeps,” the event featured performances from various student groups, a luminaria ceremony, and Relay’s signature track where individuals can walk in solidarity and remembrance, said Rachel Silver, a co-director of Relay For Life of UNC. 

Traditionally, one member of the team will stay awake and walk around the track until the conclusion of the event. Gordon walked the track from 1 a.m. until 7 a.m. to honor his mother. 

Gordon said that the message of community support that the event encapsulated is important to him, too.

“As compelling as my mom’s motivation is for me, I have to address that I also partake for those who don’t have anyone to fight for them," he said. "Unfortunately, not everyone with cancer has the same support that my mom had specifically.”

Fittingly, the UNC branch of Relay for Life is moving to merge with the Orange County branch of the organization. They opened this year’s Festival of Hope to community members for the first time. Having increased their community presence, Relay is looking to involve more UNC students in the future following several years of decreased student participation. 

Gus Elmore, treasurer of Relay, said he wanted Festival of Hope to become a staple in the UNC student experience. Elmore emphasized that participation in Festival of Hope is not reserved for Relay members but is open to the entire community of UNC. 

“I envision Relay being something similar to CFTK or Holi Moli in that I would enjoy seeing the whole campus at the main event,” Elmore said.


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