After a 13-year run, the American Cancer Society is folding its Brookfield Relay For Life fundraiser and combining it with two others in order to expand the event’s reach.
The American Cancer Society is merging Brookfield’s event with ones in Westchester and Countryside to form the new Relay For Life of West Cook, which will also target participants from a dozen other towns, including LaGrange, LaGrange Park, Riverside, Lyons, Indian Head Park, McCook, Hodgkins and other west suburbs.
“We’re trying to get all of those communities involved,” said Katherine Toraason, a spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society in Chicago.
The new event will be held overnight, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., on Aug. 8-9 at the Pleasantdale Park District’s Walker Park, 7425 S. Wolf Road in Burr Ridge.
“We decided that it was time to do some updating of our own in the community, and in the immortal words of Jake and Elwood Blues, ‘We’re putting the band back together,'” Toraason said.
The move isn’t a total surprise after participation dwindled in recent years. Last year, just 10 teams, comprising 120 people, participated in the Brookfield Relay for Life. Prior to the inaugural event in Brookfield back in 2001, Brookfield participated in what was called the West Cook Relay, beginning in 1997.
When it kicked off in 2001, the Brookfield Relay was a smash. The inaugural event, an overnight affair held in Jaycee/Ehlert Park, raised more than $100,000, including a $10,000 donation from former Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan.
By 2012, the event was knocking on the $1 million door but fell short. Finally, in 2013, Brookfield was able to top the $1 million mark. During its 13-year history, Brookfield’s Relay For Life raised $1,015,383.
But the last few years were a struggle. Late-night storms washed out the event two years in a row, and competition from a host of similar events in nearby communities affected attendance and fundraising. In the final year, the American Cancer Society dropped the overnight portion, going instead to a daytime-only event.
The reasoning for dropping the overnight portion was to boost attendance. But the change had little effect.
“I think, like many things, when something first starts, there’s a lot of enthusiasm. As time passes, people do something different,” said Brookfield Village Clerk Cathy Colgrass Edwards, who was a founder of the Brookfield Relay for Life.
Edwards said the lack of participation in 2013 was noticeable, especially since the event was striving to reach the $1 million goal.
“I was surprised there were so few people,” Edwards said. “I can understand why they want to go back to combining it.”
Brookfield still has a major presence in the new event. Judy Rospenda, a Brookfield resident, is chairwoman of the Relay For Life of West Cook.
The fundraiser supports cancer research and educates people about the disease. Teams raise money in advance of the event and then camp out and take turns walking the track during the 12-hour event.
“Everything we do at Relay For Life contributes to reducing cancer mortality and incidence, whether it’s raising dollars that support free patient programs and services, research, or volunteering to commit to advocacy and education efforts — we’re all part of the fight and we need the help,” Rospenda said in a press release.
Anyone interested in starting or joining a team, obtaining more information or making a donation can visit online at www.RelayForLife.org/westcookil.