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Unicoi County Relay For Life welcomes new ACS partner

Jessica Poff is now working with Unicoi County Relay For Life. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

Relay For Life has become the signature fundraising event for the American Cancer Society (ACS). The well-known fundraiser has become an annual event where Relay For Life teams designate a specific theme and host various games and activities to help reach a fundraising goal to assist cancer research, treatment and support.

The Unicoi County Relay For Life team has joined forces with Jessica Poff, their new American Cancer Society partner, to make the 2018 Relay For Life event as successful as possible.

Poff is currently the community development manager for the American Cancer Society, and was a volunteer for over 15 years before she embarked on a full-time career with the organization. She serves the entire East Tennessee region, but her focus is on Unicoi, Hawkins, Carter and Greene counties.

“I’ve worked with Unicoi County before, so this area isn’t new to me,” Poff said. “I’m excited to be back, and since I’m already familiar with the community it’s nice to recognize friendly faces that I know.”

Unfortunately, she said that cancer has impacted the lives of some family members, church friends and people she grew up with. It was during her college years that she first became involved with a Relay For Life event.

“I honestly wasn’t sure what it was all about at first,” explained Poff. “I went to my first event, and something about it just grabbed me. I saw luminary bags lit up and something hit me, and that’s when it clicked that this was such an important event.”

The ACS partners in each area work with local Relay For Life teams and assist them in their fundraising efforts by reaching out to and acquiring larger donations from business affiliates, as well as providing needed materials for fundraising efforts.

“Our ACS partners are really a liaison between us and the office in Knoxville,” said Renea Jones-Rogers, chairwoman for Unicoi County Relay For Life. “They help with finding the right volunteers for the right programs, and they have access to contacts at other agencies to get supplies that we may not have in the county.”

Aside from assisting with year round fundraising efforts, ACS hosts educational events in schools and works with medical offices to remind people of the importance of cancer screenings and taking precautionary measures to protect their health.

ACS provides an array of free services, some of which include Road to Recovery that offers free rides to medical appointments for cancer patients, Look Good Feel Better which assists people in coping with the physical side effects of cancer, and Hope Lodge that provides free housing to patients traveling out of town for medical treatment.

Between January and August of this year, the American Cancer Society has provided 242 free programs and services to residents of Unicoi County.

“The biggest resource we have is our hotline at 1-800-227-2345, which is a 24 hour a day, 365 days a year hotline where there will always be someone there to answer,” Poff said. “If it’s Christmas morning at two in the morning and you have a question about a medication, there will be someone to talk to.”

In fact, Poff has called the hotline herself at three in the morning to get information on behalf of a family members. 

“The number can be used to look up resources in the area and schedule a follow up,” Poff said. “ … it’s a one stop number for anything you may need … program or service information, medical information, or just someone to talk to.”

Poff also mentioned that the ACS website at is also a valuable resource with information about cancer prevention and ongoing research as well as a virtual chat line that can be used to ask questions.

The funding for these free services offered by ACS comes from the numerous fundraisers held each year. The Unicoi County Relay For Life team is already working to make the 2018 fundraiser a success by incorporating fresh ideas and strategies to garner as much community involvement as possible.

“We’re looking at doing something different to rebrand relay, and we’re starting those conversations now,” Jones-Rogers said. “We’re still hoping to do the kickoff for the event in February, and we’re looking at changing some things up so that we can bring a new perspective to Relay.”

With September being such a busy month for many people, she said that it’s sometimes hard to get people to commit to a 12-hour event, and although nothing is set in stone, something they may look at changing this year is breaking the one day event up over the course of several days.

“This way it can be a really fun experience for everyone to enjoy,” Poff added. “If someone can’t come to the main event, then there may be smaller events that they can still attend. We think the community will love it.”

If you are interested in volunteering with the Unicoi County Relay For Life team, visit its Facebook page at