By Kelsey Lyman

Team photo by Kaci Smart ’09

The members of Columbia College’s Relay for Life team are no strangers to fundraising success – in fact, they’ve raised over $221,550 since 2007. In 2018, they ranked first in Boone County by raising $17,500. Relay for Life is the signature fundraiser of the American Cancer Society; it takes place through events sponsored by local committees of volunteers.

Columbia College’s team has a long-standing tradition of organizing events throughout the year to raise money for the cause and it shows through its members’ enthusiasm. Senior Director of Admissions Stephanie Johnson, who serves as co-captain for the Relay for Life team with Associate Director of Admissions Jason Valentine and Academic Advising Coordinator Michael Garver, has been involved with the event for 17 years and knows that teamwork and dedication is the only way to success.

“I think that we’ve started a good tradition of what we do,” she says, “we have a strong foundation of ‘it takes a village’ to do this, and it takes a lot of hands on deck to make it successful.”

Not only is staff involved, but many other groups contribute to Relay for Life. Johnson notes that the whole campus often contributes to certain events, from departmental competition in “penny wars” to annual garage-sale donations from Residential Life.

Johnson joined the team simply because someone asked, and that’s a principle she passes on to other members.

“I had an American Cancer Society person just come up and ask me,” she explains, “and that’s how a lot of it happens. I always tell team members that they can’t support you if you don’t ask!”

Other team members have different circumstances that brought them to Relay for Life. Valentine became more involved with the team after cancer impacted him directly.

“It hadn’t really touched too much in my life when I first started with Relay,” he says, “but soon after I started my dad was diagnosed with sarcoma, and he battled for seven years. That made my involvement more meaningful.”

As for what makes the team so successful, Valentine thinks that the culture at Columbia College plays a big role.

“I think everyone would agree that Columbia College has a real community culture,” Valentine said, “and I think because of that, a team like this is able to be so successful.”

The connection to cancer is a unifying one and has brought people from across departments to Relay for Life. The athletic program has become a major partner in organizing events to contribute. Activities like Cougars vs. Cancer, Paint the Pumpkins and Hollywood vs. Hardwood have all been successful fundraisers within the Athletic Department. Kim Kliegel, business manager for Athletics, has been a team member for five years and understands what an important role the athletic department has played in the team’s fundraising success.

“The athletic department does quite a bit, actually,” Kliegel says, “and the sports teams started getting a little bit more involved as well, so you have the teams and the fans together.”

Not only does the department organize many events throughout the athletic seasons that contribute to Relay for Life, but also has captured a different audience–visitors.

“Whether you’re a fan of the Cougars or a fan of the visiting team, you know somebody that has been affected with cancer,” Kliegel says, “so you’re reaching out to a different audience, and everybody has the same goal – we want to get rid of cancer.”

The Columbia College Relay for Life team serves as a beacon of hope in the long fight against cancer. Though the fight is not over, they have committed themselves to continue fundraising, and Stephanie Johnson’s team slogan sums it up best: “Until there’s a cure.”