Cancer survivors begin the ceremonial Survivor Lap during the opening event of the Unicoi County Relay For Life held on Saturday, Aug. 25, at the Unicoi County High School track. Relay events continue this week. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The annual Relay For Life event is officially underway. This year, the festivities will last all week long and is known as The Festival of Hope.

The festival kicked off on Saturday, Aug. 25, with the Survivor/Caregiver Walk for cancer survivors and their caregivers at the Unicoi County High School track. The survivors and their caregivers were led by the Unicoi County Middle School marching band and cheered on by the Unicoi County Middle School cheerleaders. Taking part in the walk, which has become a cornerstone of Relay, were more than two dozen survivors.

Following the Survivor/Caregiver Walk on Saturday, there was a presentation of awards. These awards acknowledged those who work hard to put on such an event. The winners for the Youth Recognition Awards were Gracie Tilson and Bella Bogart.

One of the major awards of the night was the Emma Smith Award, which is named after the founder of the Unicoi County Relay For Life. This year’s winner was Lesa Buchanan. Recognized with the Mike Clouse Award was local resident Bryon Wiggand. Nick Rogers surprised his mother, Renea Jones-Rogers, with the Heart of Hope Award for all the time and energy she has put into making this event a great success.

Saturday’s event had a wide array of activities. There were a variety of classic cars on display. A human foosball course was set up in the infield. Bands played on the main stage. There were multiple inflatables for the children in attendance. Dining options were made available by Trucky Cheese and Tri-A-Bite food trucks, as well as Grillin For A Cure’s fajitas. As the sun went down runners filled the streets for the annual Hope Run.

Relay coordinators said Saturday’s event was a tremendous kick off for the week. The message was clear that the community was not going to lay down to cancer. According to Renea Jones-Rogers, “through our efforts tonight, we will have more folks celebrating birthdays.”

If you missed Saturday’s event, please come join the Festival of Hope for a good time and a great cause. Remaining events include:

Wednesday, Aug. 29: Barbecue, Bags & Bluegrass Night

This event will take place in downtown Erwin on Union Street and will feature food from Hawg-N-Dawg, a cornhole tournament, and a chance to pick with the Unicoi County High School Bluegrass Band. There is a $10 per person tournament donation. The community is asked to dress in the color of the cancer that has impacted their lives. The event is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.

Thursday, Aug. 30: Passport to Hope Dinner at The Bramble

The theme for this year’s event will be “A Low Country Experience.” There will be a low country boil, grits bar, desserts and much more. The dinner will start at 6 p.m. This event is almost full, so please call 534-1616 for ticket availability.

Friday, Aug. 31: Friday Night Lights of Hope

The Festival of Hope will wrap up at the UCHS football game. A parade featuring the teams, sponsors, survivors and volunteers will lead to the tailgate party.

The entrances at Gentry Stadium will be lined with the luminaria bags and the signature HOPE sign will be on display as UCHS takes on North Greene High School. At the conclusion of the night, there will reportedly be a special surprise in store for everyone.

Anyone going to the game is encouraged to wear the color of cancer that affects you and your community. The parade starts at 5 p.m. and the game starts at 7:30 p.m.

To check for a full schedule of events or to donate please visit www.relayforlife.org/UnicoiTN and help our area surpass their goal.