Local cancer survivors begins the annual survivor lap during Relay For Life on Saturday, Sept. 7, at the Unicoi County High School track. The Unicoi County Relay For Life continues to raise funds in the battle against cancer. (Photo contributed by Cheryl Wright)

By Richard Rourk

Unicoi County continues to take the fight to cancer.

“We are at $35,000 right now, which is just shy of our goal of $50,000,” Unicoi County Relay For Life Chairwoman Renea Jones-Rogers told The Erwin Record. “We will still be accepting donations to go towards our goal until December.”

The Unicoi County Relay For Life wrapped up its annual Festival of Hope on Saturday, Sept. 7, with a night full of events at the Unicoi County High School track.

“We had a great event,” Jones-Rogers said. “Our theme was ‘Wish Upon A Cure,’ so a lot of our events were Disney themed.”

This year’s closing ceremony included the First Annual Bryon Wiggand Memorial Cruise-In For A Cure. According to Jones-Rogers, Wiggand, who won the Mike Clouse Award last year, is being honored because of his tireless work with Relay For Life.

“With Bryon being a big part of Relay, it was very special, and we had a lot of cars show up,” Jones-Rogers said.

According to Jones-Rogers, Tina Duncan won the Emma Smith Award. The Unicoi County Relay For Life was founded by Emma Smith and her name is still synonymous with the organization today. The Emma Smith award is handed out yearly to a deserving volunteer.

Bristol Campgrounds won the Mike Clouse Award. The Mike Clouse Award is named after another very special volunteer.

“Campers at the Bristol Campgrounds holds several fundraisers over the years, and they have raised more  than $10,000 over the past six years,” Jones-Rogers said.

Also winning awards at the ceremony were Erwin Utilities, who took home the Ayers Community Action Impact Award and the Heart of Relay Award went to Gary Amos.

According to Jones-Rogers, more than 30 cancer survivors participated in the Survivor Walk.

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The Festival of Hope kicked off on Aug. 26 with the Second Annual Barbeque, Bags & Bluegrass event. The event, which was presented by Blue Nation Warriors Relay Team and sponsored by Erwin Outdoor Supply, Union Street Taproom and Union Street Gallery, took place on Union Street on Monday from 5-8 p.m.

“The Unicoi County High School bluegrass band played, there was a barbecue dinner for $5 a plate and there was a corn hole tournament as well,” Jones-Rogers said.

The Festival of Hope Community and Kids Night at the Farmers Market in Erwin, was held on Aug. 27. There were train rides, activities for children, survivor and caregiver recognition, community goodies, and Unicoi County Hospital hosted an ice cream night, as well as the popular Banana Split Eating Contest.

The Second Annual Festival of Hope “Passport To Hope” dinner was held on Aug. 29 at The Bramble in Erwin. According to Jones-Rogers, NOLI catered the event and there was a dessert auction at the end of the evening.

The Second Annual Friday Night Lights of Hope was held before and during the Aug. 30 Unicoi County Blue Devil football game against the Hampton Bulldogs.

“We teamed up with Carter County Relay For Life and held a joint march together for the game,” Jones-Rogers said.

Both Unicoi County and Carter County Relay members released lanterns together.

According to Jones-Rogers, all the events were a huge success, especially a series of concerts with The Williams Brothers and their Beautiful U Tour, that came through UCHS on Sept. 3.

“The Williams Brothers came up from Asheville and did concerts in Unicoi and Carter counties,” Jones-Rogers said.

For Jones-Rogers this year’s event was bittersweet as she will be passing the torch as chairwoman of Unicoi County’s Relay For Life to Lesa Buchanan at the end of the year.

“When I originally started, it was a way for me to give back for all the support we received when (my son) Nick (Rogers) was in his battle,” Jones-Rogers said. “I love my Relay family. I definitely have received more than I gave.”

According to Jones-Rogers, even though cancers are being fought and survival rates are higher due to groups like The American Cancer Society and Relay For Life, everyone still has to fight for the cure.

“We can’t let our foot off the gas,” Jones-Rogers said.

If you are interested in donating to Unicoi County Relay For Life, please visit relayforlife.org and select Unicoi County or contact Jessica Poff at jessica.poff@cancer.org. Donations can also be made at the Clinchfield Federal Credit Union.