Relay leaders unite for cause

Published 5:53 pm Saturday, March 7, 2015

Suffolk’s Relay For Life is exploring a new leadership structure this year, and all three “leads” seem to favor it over having one chairman for the event.

But regardless of the division of duties, all three women are working toward one common goal: a cure for cancer.

Lauren McGhee and Heather Howell co-chaired the event last year. This year, McGhee is the “People Lead” and Howell is the “Experience Lead.”

Email newsletter signup

They are joined this year by Ellasin Allen, the “Mission Lead.”

Their investment is personal. All three women have lost a parent — two, in McGhee’s case — to cancer, in addition to multiple other family members and friends.

As the Experience Lead, Howell will be responsible for “anything you see and hear at Relay,” from the tents and lights to performers and activities.

“I like this a whole lot better,” said Howell, who has lost her father, a grandfather and an aunt to cancer. “It seems to have streamlined my responsibility. It’s like having three co-chairs instead of one chair. It’s a more even division of responsibilities.”

Howell said she is excited about this year’s event, which begins at 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 16. That’s a change from past year’s events, which started on Friday.

“I’m hopeful a lot more people can participate, since it won’t involve taking time off from work,” she said.

Getting people to participate is exactly what McGhee’s job is as the People Lead. She believes people will be more inclined to participate since there is no registration fee this year. She also wants people to stay all night long.

“I want to get more people to participate, more teams, and encourage people to actually stay all night,” she said. “The people that stayed last year had a great time. We do have activities that go all night long.”

McGhee lost both of her parents to cancer, a month apart, when she was only 13 years old. Her mother-in-law also died of cancer in 2010.

“We are hoping to have more participants this year, because it is free,” she said. “We’re working on bringing some teams back that haven’t signed up that have been part of it in the past.”

Allen is the Mission Lead, which makes her responsible for fundraising and accounting. She got involved in Relay about three years ago. She has lost her mother, a grandmother, an aunt and an uncle to cancer and has a close friend who is battling it now. Her sister is also a survivor.

“I just appreciate that Relay doesn’t just provide money, they also provide assistance,” Allen said, noting programs that help cancer patients find transportation to appointments and give them free wigs when they’ve lost their hair from treatments.

“I appreciate Relay does all of that,” she said, noting that the help extends to the support system. “It is a family or a friend thing. Everybody’s in there all together.”

For more information, visit