South Side students prep for school's first Relay For Life

June 2 event to benefit the American Cancer Society


South Side High School is set to hosts its first-ever Relay For Life in less than three months, as motivated students have been spreading the word and collecting donations ahead of the cancer research fundraising event.

Each year, more than 5,000 Relay for Life events — organized by the American Cancer Society, in conjunction with the local communities — take place in 27 countries, and benefit initiatives to fight cancer. Members of South Side High School’s Cancer Awareness Club, along with their faculty advisor, Meghan O’Brien, approached district officials early last year about hosting the popular event, and the Board of Education approved.

“We were so excited,” said senior Giulia Pugliese, president of the Cancer Awareness Club. “We’re still so excited. It’s kind of weird, because it’s been so long and we keep on preparing for June 2, 2018.”

Pugliese said her grandmother died of colon cancer and her aunt died of stomach cancer. Her mother is a cancer survivor. “It hits really close to home for me,” she said. “That’s why I wanted to join this club, because it’s just a big part of my life.”

Senior Sofia Harrison, the club’s treasurer, said she joined the club as a freshman while her cousin, who was 5 at the time, was battling cancer. He has since recovered, she added. “I wanted to do something — other than just helping him — by helping everyone,” she noted.

O’Brien said she has lost two aunts, a grandmother and her mother-in-law to cancer. Her aunt is a survivor, she added, as other relatives are now in treatment. Even she has undergone tests and waited for biopsy results, which were “thankfully negative.”

“It’s these experiences that motivate me to be involved in a cause like Relay for Life, and to be a mentor for students who are going through similar experiences,” O’Brien said.

The club had discussed hosting Relay For Life for a few years, said Harrison, who always recalled surrounding communities holding the events. “Finally, we just said to [Principal John] Murphy, ‘What do you think?’ and he was so on board with it,” she said.

During each Relay For Life event, team members take turns walking around a track or designated path. The teams are asked to have a member on the track at all times to signify that cancer never sleeps.

Though some relays are 12- or 24-hour affairs, Rockville Centre’s June 2 event will run from 5 to 11 p.m. at the high school track. It will feature a Survivors Lap, during which those who have beaten cancer make their way around the track, as well as a Caregivers Lap for those who have stood beside their friends and loved ones during the fight against the disease.

It will also include Relay For Life’s traditional Luminaria Ceremony, which involves illuminating paper lanterns and dedicating them to those who have been diagnosed. A closing celebratory ceremony will last until 11 p.m.

Students originally set a fundraising goal of $10,000, but later raised it to $60,000 when they saw the donations rolling in online. With about 80 days until the event, they have already garnered $9,863. Harrison said various sports squads and clubs at South Side are forming teams.

The club members worked closely with the American Cancer Society to form sub-committees that are in charge of different aspects of the event, according to O’Brien, including community outreach, sponsorships, and building a social media presence to keep the community informed. They created a Facebook and Instagram page, Pugliese said, and have walked around the village to ask for donations from local businesses.

“We want people, even not from Rockville Centre, to make teams,” Harrison said, “so we’re just trying to get the word out now.”

Those who wish to donate to an existing team, or create a team of their own can visit the event site at