Volunteer of the Week: John J. Manna, Jr., American Cancer Society’s ‘Relay for Life 2018’ Leadership Team Member

John J. Manna, Jr. has been a volunteer with the American Cancer Society for 15 years. Funds raised by the Relay for Life events help to support and educate people about reducing their risks for cancer or detecting it early when it’s easiest to treat.


‘Relay for Life’ events are community gatherings where teams and individuals camp out at a school, park or fairground and take turns walking or running around a track or path. Fundraising before and during the event helps fuel the fight as well as entertainment and activities that keep things fun and lively. Each event is 6-24 hours long, and each team is asked to have a member on the track at all times to signify the ongoing fight against cancer.

In the months leading up to the event, Relay participants fundraise both individually and as part of their team. They set personal and team goals and reach out to friends and family for donations and support. This year’s event is being held in Rockland at the Central Avenue Field in Pearl River on June 9 from 2 p.m. to midnight. The opening ceremony is at 2 p.m., the Survivor’s Lap is at 4 p.m. and the Luminaria (candle) Ceremony will be at 9 p.m.

“Relay for Life is the largest grass-roots fundraising event in the country,” volunteer and member of the American Cancer Society’s Leadership Team, John J. Manna, Jr., told the Rockland County Times. “The Central Avenue Field in Pearl River is in town, easily seen by passersby and the exposure stimulates more donations. One large tent is provided by the Pearl River Fire Department, additional tents are rented and Orangetown supplies the lights. I’m in charge of setting up the site and placing a large 12-foot HOPE sign on a fence,”

In 2017, at RCC, there were 200 participants, 39 teams and 50 cancer survivors, and $150,000 was raised. This year, there are 143 participants on 24 teams and 23 cancer survivors registered. With two weeks left, the Society has raised $100,000. In the last 21 years, at three sites, over 2 million dollars has been obtained during the Relay for Life events.

“Our chapter has joined the Pearl River Chamber of Commerce, which has been very helpful to us and its members have donated to our cause,” Manna says. “This is a rain or shine occasion and if it rains, we have access to the public school across from the field. Anything we go through is nothing compared to the struggles of the cancer patients.”

“My father was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2003 and when my law firm sent out an email about Relay for Life, I volunteered,” Manna continues. “I can’t say no, so I became involved with many other aspects of the American Cancer Society. In our virtual world, at Relay for Life I sense the community coming together for a cause, in person. At the Survivor Walk and Luminaria (candle) Ceremony, there isn’t a dry eye in the house.”

The American Cancer Society is a full-service charity that funds cancer research and provides services, such as the ‘Road to Recovery’. “I retired as a full-time lawyer and work part-time, so I have a number of hours to drive cancer patients to obtain services in a hospital or doctor’s office. Treatment is not good, if you can’t get there, and in Rockland, there’s little public transportation,” Manna says. “I join 700 other Cancer Action Network volunteers every September and go to Washington to get the Federal Government to increase funding for cancer research and programs. We let our representatives know we care about cancer and we vote!”

A Paint the Town Purple event will be held in downtown Pearl River between 3-6 p.m. on Saturday, June 2 where people can meet the committee and others participating in the event and get information about it. “I am so proud to say that I volunteer for the American Cancer Society,” Manna says.

What to expect at a Relay for Life event:

  • Participants are welcomed.
  • The Survivor Lap starts, when survivors and others currently affected by cancer walk the track and are cheered and supported by attendees.
  • The Caregiver Lap recognizes those who’ve provided support to their loved ones during their cancer treatment.
  • After the survivors and caregivers take their laps, the teams pour onto the track to begin the celebration.
  • Team members take turns walking throughout the event to symbolize the ongoing fight against cancer.
  • When not walking, participants visit team campsites to play games and listen to entertainment, while learning how to be better advocates for the American Cancer Society.
  • Darkness is symbolic of the fear that a patient feels when diagnosed. After sunset, Luminaria (candles) are lit to remember those who were lost, to celebrate cancer survivors and to show those affected by cancer that they are not alone.
  • Closing ceremonies wrap up the event. Volunteers who helped run the event and the hard work of the community are recognized. People are also reminded that it’s important to participate in Relay for Life until cancer is no more.

The Relay for Life movement fuels the mission of the American Cancer Society, an organization that touches the lives of so many people. Last year, Relay for Life participants and supporters nationwide helped raise more than $400 million.

Funds raised enable the Society to help people facing the disease by providing free information, help to support and educate people about how to reduce their risk for cancer or detect it early when it’s easiest to treat, fund cancer research that will help protect future generations and fight back through public policy in partnership with the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network.

Donations may be made at relayforlife.org/rocklandny. For additional information, call 845-440-2522.

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