Kathy Smith and the Purple Kool Aid
How a 21 year old built a $50,000 fundraiser through Relay For Life
NEW YORK, NY – June 25, 2012 – Kathy Smith is not much different from most 21 year olds. This year she graduated from Baruch College in New York City. She’s a fan of Lost, reads Harry Potter, and roots for the New York Giants. But when it comes to philanthropy, Kathy is in no way your typical 21 year old. While her peers may support a cause through Facebook status messages or small donations, Kathy goes much, much further. This year she took the cause she supports – the fight against cancer – and built a $50,000 fundraiser from the ground up.
Kathy Smith is the Committee Chair and founder of Relay For Life of Bergen Beach, Mill Basin and Marine Park. Her love for Relay began in 2011 at Baruch College’s 7th Annual Relay For Life.
“I actually got involved with Relay by accident!” Kathy says. “I walked into a committee meeting thinking it was an informational meeting. But everyone was so energized and passionate, and I became addicted to the Purple Kool-Aid right away!”
Kathy went on to fundraise over $1,000 at Relay For Life of Baruch College. Despite this impressive sum, she admits that she found herself encountering an obstacle with her fundraising efforts.
“Talking to people on campus was easy, but no one in my home neighborhood of Bergen Beach, Brooklyn knew what Relay For Life was!” she explains. “Throughout my life I have come across so many friends and family that have been affected by cancer. I wanted to do something about it, and I was so moved by the way Relay brought my college together. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t this be amazing in my community?’”
“So I made a bold decision to start my own event and called the American Cancer Society to get the ball rolling,” she continues.
Kathy is no stranger to cancer. When she was just six years old, she lost her father to this disease.
“I think of him every single day,” Kathy says. “I was so young when it happened and I never was comfortable talking about it. It took a long time to realize that it was okay that I didn’t have a dad.”
Kathy says Relay For Life is what really helped her come to terms with her father’s passing. “At Baruch’s Relay event, I said a speech during the Luminara ceremony. It was the first time I spoke about losing my father and how cancer affected me. It was difficult, but also so therapeutic.”
Cancer recently re-emerged in Kathy’s life when she began dating her boyfriend, Chris, in 2010. Chris’s mother, Loula Vellios, had been battling brain cancer since 1998. At the time her of diagnosis, her doctor’s advised that her life could be saved by a trial chemotherapy treatment, but her insurance company denied coverage.
Loula decided to fight the insurance company’s decision and hired a lawyer. She took her case all the way to the Supreme Court. In a landmark ruling – Vellios v. IPRO – the Supreme Court ruled that an insurance company could no longer deny coverage of a treatment solely on the basis that it is a clinical trial. Loula went on to live another nine years but sadly lost her battle just this past March.
“It broke my heart when Chris's mother died. After her death I found out that she was an amazing person that helped so many people because of her court case,” Kathy explains. “She was a fighter then and at the very end of her life. Her family fights back by participating in Relay. They are carrying on her legacy."
Armed with this motivation, Kathy set out to build a community of cancer activism and support in her own backyard. She joined forces with Nancy Colt, special events manager of the American Cancer Society of Brooklyn, to paint Bergen Beach purple and get the word out about Relay for Life.
“Getting the event off the ground was a huge undertaking!” Kathy says. “Surprisingly, the day-of logistics was the easy part. Since it was a brand new event for my neighborhood, we had challenges getting vendors and businesses on our side. We really had to get the word out and tell people what Relay is. Fortunately, I had an amazing committee, and they helped me every step of the way.”
When the day of the event came on June 2, Kathy was nervous. Even after months of planning, a stellar committee and a string of successful personal fundraising efforts, she wasn’t sure what to expect. Would everything go smoothly? Would people actually come? Would the weather be nice?
The answers: yes, yes and yes!
“Our Relay was AMAZING!!” says Kathy. “It didn’t hit me just how successful it was until the sun went down. The field was FILLED with Luminaria bags that were lit up. I was leading the lap along with my sister, my aunt, and my grandmother. I turned around and looked behind me, and saw an army of people walking this lap with me. It was more than I could have ever hoped for.”
Relay For Life of Bergen Beach, Mill Basin and Marine Park has raised over $50,000 with donations still being counted. To donate to this event, or find an event near you, visit www.relayforlife.org.
About the American Cancer Society
The American Cancer Society combines an unyielding passion with nearly a century of experience to save lives and end suffering from cancer. As a global grassroots force of more than three million volunteers, we fight for every birthday threatened by every cancer in every community. We save lives by helping people stay well by preventing cancer or detecting it early; helping people get well by being there for them during and after a cancer diagnosis; by finding cures through investment in groundbreaking discovery; and by fighting back by rallying lawmakers to pass laws to defeat cancer and by rallying communities worldwide to join the fight. As the nation’s largest non-governmental investor in cancer research, contributing more than $3.4 billion, we turn what we know about cancer into what we do. As a result, more than 11 million people in America who have had cancer and countless more who have avoided it will be celebrating birthdays this year. To learn more about us or to get help, call us any time, day or night, at 1-800-227-2345 or visit cancer.org.