Rhode Island Spotlight: Relay for Life at CVS

relay1On a crisp autumn morning, dozens of people set out to make a statement that millions of others around the world make with them every year. By the end of this day more than 1,000 people will participate in a local Relay for Life event in Woonsocket to raise funds and awareness in the fight against cancer.

“Relay for Life is the number 1 fundraiser in the world,” said Howard Goodrow of the American Cancer Society, adding that the 30-year-old event includes four million people in 20 countries taking part every year. The Relay for Life events are typically staged over a 24-hour period with teams taking shifts.

But this event has a twist: The relay is being held at the headquarters of CVS Health, and more than a third of the employees who work in three separate buildings are taking time out of their work day to circle the campus with a unified message.

“People hear ‘relay’ and they think, ‘Do we have to run?'” Goodrow said. “‘Is this something I really have to run?’ But no, it’s really just survivors, caregivers, friends and family getting together to celebrate life. And to celebrate those people who have fought the disease and lost and those who have fought it and are beating it today. We have started over the last year trying to integrate Relay for Life into corporate settings. Folks from the corporate world don’t necessarily see what we do in the communities, so we wanted to bring that sense of spirit, survivorship and well-being to the corporate setting.”

relay2It was a natural fit for CVS. “There’s not a person in this building who doesn’t know someone with cancer or isn’t touched by cancer,” said Eileen Howard Boone, the company’s senior vice president for Corporate Social Responsibility and Philanthropy who helped lead the charge in Woonsocket. Boone said the company tried a similar on-campus event in Arizona that drew about 400 people earlier this year.

“All they have to do is walk out of their offices, join a team and walk around the building, and walk around the course,” she said. And 1,200 of the 3,000 people who work at headquarters did, raising more than $34,000 in one day. CVS set up walking courses for each of its three main buildings, located on separate parts of the 250-acre campus. The participants included Diane Bourque, a 25-year employee in the company’s IT department, whose father died from cancer.

Diane Bourque: This is one of the first on-campus events. It allows people to kind of leave their desks for a short period of time, come in and participate, and feel like they’re engaged in what’s going on.

Jim Hummel (Motif): And is that what was attractive for you?

DB: Yeah, we really just asked people to donate one half hour and come and participate. And we got some sunshine so we’re happy about that.

Tami-Lynn White is a cancer survivor who was on the committee that organized the event. It has been four years since White had surgery for breast cancer and while she has wanted to do a Relay event, the timing had never been right — until now.

“I was really happy that they’re doing this. This is an honor to all of us who are surviving. I just think it’s a marvelous idea. I look around and I see a lot of (survivors) sashes and I think, ‘Wow, so many people have been affected by this, any type of cancer.’ But we’re among a big group, we should be proud that we’re here.’’

A common theme at Relay for Life gatherings is the luminaria set up near the course, and this event was no different. Dozens of people wrote personalized messages that everybody passed on the way to the course.

“Most of our events are overnight, so that’s a big difference,” the ACS’s Goodrow said. “I don’t think we’re going to see any tents set up here today. That’s probably the main difference. But in terms of the feel of the event and the excitement around the event, it crosses both ways.”

Goodrow said CVS’s decision to remove tobacco products from all of its stores made this event a great fit for the company with the American Cancer Society. “We lose about 160,000 people a year from lung cancer, and most of those incidences are caused by tobacco. It’s the only product that if you use it the way they ask you to use it, has a good chance of killing you.’’

CVS’s Boone said of the event, “It has far exceeded our expectations. We were hoping for a couple of hundred people and so far we already have 1,000 people signed up.”

So will this be a model for other companies?

“It’s not going to be right for everybody, but on a campus like this where you have so many individuals here, it’s absolutely a great fit. And we’d love to do more of them across the country,’’ Goodrow said.

If you want to see the video version of this story go to www.RhodeIslandSpotlight.org. If you know of a person or organization who you think deserves the Spotlight, send an email to jim@RhodeIslandSpotlight.org

Leave a Reply

Prove that you are human *

Previous post:

Next post: