Keeler Church Mini-Relay draws more than 200

More than 200 people walked the trail surrounding Keeler Church of God on Saturday as part of the church’s Mini-Relay for Life. (Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

More than 200 people walked the trail surrounding Keeler Church of God on Saturday as part of the church’s Mini-Relay for Life. (Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

With a crowded walking path, raffle sales, refreshments and fun activities peppered throughout the afternoon, one could have easily mistaken the lawn outside of Keeler Church of God as the site of this year’s Cass County Relay for Life on Sunday.

The church held their first ever Mini-Relay for Life this weekend with more than 200 of its members and others in the community participating in the festivities.

Held from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., the event was a condensed version of its larger counterpart, featuring a smaller walking track surrounding the church grounds.

Organized by Keeler Relay for Life co-captains Sarah and Lisa Saylor, the miniature walk was a fundraiser for the official relay, which takes place later this month. The two were given the idea of hosting a shrunken relay event by Caralee Waswick, a representative with the American Cancer Society of Southwest Michigan who is helping to organize this year’s Cass County
Relay for Life.

“While some of our members will be participating in this year’s relay, a lot of them have jobs that require them to work on the weekends, so they only have Sunday nights free,” Sarah Saylor said. “We jumped at the opportunity for [Waswick] to bring the mini relay to our church so these members could still participate this year.”

This year, the Keeler Team set a goal of raising $1,000 for the Cass County Relay for Life, with the proceeds being devoted cancer research. The mini-relay was the group’s major fundraiser for this year. They earned money from activities like raffle ticket sales, snacks like walking tacos and a temporary-tattoo station for children.

While the two captains helped out, the event was primarily run by the church’s youth group, who also conducted the survivor and luminary ceremonies, Saylor said.

“We officially formed the youth group this past year,” she said. “We would like to get them out in the community more often.”

The church first formed a team for the relay in 2009 after the church’s pastor, Boyd Saylor, was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Although the disease has since gone into remission, the pastor said watching his family and congregation rally together to support him forever changed his outlook on life.

“To know that your church family, the community and friends support you, there’s healing in that,” he said.

Since then, the team has raised between $3,000 and $4,000 for the relay every year, Sarah said. On the day of the relay, they typically have around a dozen members on-site throughout the duration of the 24-hour long walkathon, with around 30-40 others walking throughout the day.

“Over the past 40 years, we’ve lost so many of our members to this disease,” Boyd Saylor said. “If we can do even one thing to help someone fight it, that’s enough for us.”

The Cass County Relay for Life begins at 10 a.m. May 17 and runs through 10 a.m. May 18 at the Dowagiac Union School’s APEX Athletic Complex.

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