Since 2009, one team—Kayce’s Crew—has held the coveted spot as the top fundraisers for their local Relay for Life, the signature fundraising event for the American Cancer Society (ACS).
Leading the charge of this mighty group: Toni Jones, Assistant General Accounting Manager for ORIX USA, who has been with the company for more than 18 years. In 2008, Toni lost her niece, 25-year-old Kayce, to cancer. A year later, Toni—along with about a dozen or two members of Kayce’s family and friends—formed Kayce’s Crew and began participating in the annual fundraiser. “It’s just a way for us to fight back in Kayce’s name and fight back against cancer,” Toni says.
Started in 1985, Relay for Life was the brainchild of Dr. Gordon Katt, who walked and ran for 24 hours straight around a track to help raise money for the ACS. Nowadays, teams participating in the more than 3,500 Relay events around the country camp out and take turns walking or running around a track in an effort to raise funds. These overnight celebrations are often staged at a local school’s football field and can span anywhere from five to 24 hours. A member of each team must be circling the track at all times to signify the powerful message behind the event: Cancer never sleeps, so they won’t either for one night.
The one exception to the walking mandate? The Luminaria Ceremony, often the most memorable part of a Relay. Once it gets dark, hundreds of luminarias are lit, creating a soft glow over the field and signaling the beginning of an emotional silent ceremony meant to honor those who have lost their battle with cancer, as well as those who have survived or are currently living with the disease.
“It’s a quiet, respectful and peaceful time when we can all just remember the survivors and people who have lost their battle with cancer,” Toni says.
Participants write the name of who they would like to honor on their bags, and many choose to decorate with photos, drawings and other memorabilia. You don’t have to be attending an event, though, to purchase and dedicate a luminaria. Toni is selling luminaria bags for $10, and some ORIX employees have already dedicated a few in honor of their beloved co-worker, Mike Wurst, who lost his battle with cancer earlier this year.
For those who want to attend an event but aren’t walking, plenty of fun still awaits: Besides the food, music and games, attendees can check out the teams’ elaborate campsites. This year, Kayce’s Crew will be decking out their site to resemble a scene from the film Jailhouse Rock to go along with the event’s movie theme. The main attraction: a fenced jail to hold people who are “arrested” at the event. People donate money to Toni and her squad to put others in jail, and then the criminal must pay to get out. Want to see for yourself? The Relay for Life of Kaufman County will be held on Friday, May 5, from 7 p.m. to midnight at Herman Furlough Middle School.
While Toni welcomes and appreciates donations to Kayce’s Crew, she also encourages anyone interested to participate in their own relay to support their community. “Every employee can get involved, and that’s what it’s really all about,” she says.
One Relay event in particular stands out to Toni: When Kayce died, she left behind two sons—Cade, 4, and Carter, 2. One year, Relay fell on Cade’s 11th birthday, and he wanted nothing more than to have a birthday party at the event. “Every team stopped and wished him a happy birthday, so he was very happy,” Toni says. “We were all so happy that everyone took the time to make it special for him.”
A lot of buzz certainly surrounds Relay, but members of Kayce’s Crew are busy fundraising throughout the year too. Bunco nights, softball games and bowling tournaments have all made the lineup in previous years, but the group’s biggest hit is the annual Benefit Sale, taking place this year on April 29 in the parking lot of Forney Fence Supply from 8 a.m. – 2 p.m. Everything sold at the event is donated, and nearly everything—besides mattresses—is accepted. Have something to give? Toni and her team are accepting items until the day of the event, and they’ll even help you arrange to have an item picked up if needed.
Between Relay, the Benefit Sale and other fundraising efforts, Toni also finds time to enjoy some of her other favorite activities: shopping and spending time with her 21 nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews—the majority of which live within about 15 minutes of her. “We have fun, especially at the holidays,” Toni says.
Chances are, she’s also finding a way to brighten someone else’s day. “I’ve been helped before, and your experiences afford you the opportunity to help somebody else,” Toni says. “Even if it’s just a smile—it doesn’t have to be money. It can be anything really. Giving of your own self can help other people.”