Funding the fight against cancer

Relay for Life events generate money for research to combat deadly disease
George Brinkley

George Brinkley

There’s a certain talent that comes with persuading friends and neighbors to give to charity, and George Brinkley of Woodstock thinks he’s got the right stuff.

Every spring, the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life campaign raises cancer awareness and funds for a cure, and Brinkley said he feels no hesitation in asking for donations for his Relay for Life team.

It just takes some confidence, he said, and belief in his goal. If belief was money, though, it might be difficult imagining Brinkley earning more than he actually has: $9,000 this year and nearly $110,000 over the last 19 years.

Volunteers are asked to raise $100, said Denise Orndorff, who organized the recent  Shenandoah County event in Woodstock. “Most usually make that goal,” she said.

Captain of the team at First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Brinkley started volunteering for the cause in 1997 while working at Shentel in Winchester.

“You know everyone in Shenandoah County,” he recalled his co-workers telling him. “We need you to be on our team.”

Brinkley said he relies a lot on building relationships, chatting for awhile with community members before asking them to donate. If they don’t give that day, he asks them to remember him later if they change their minds. By the following year, he said they’re more inclined to give because they feel a stronger connection with him.

“So I don’t mind asking people for money,” he said. “Even if they’re a stranger, they soon find out that they’re not a stranger with me any longer.”

His team has raised $15,000 toward this year’s Relay for Life event, and so far the county has raised $81,211. But the collection isn’t over yet, and Brinkley said those still wishing to donate have a couple of months to give for this year’s campaign.

Warren County has raised about $97,000 so far, and Winchester-Frederick County has raised $85,000 toward its goal of $160,000.

The deadline to donate is Aug. 31, and donors can give to anyone on a Relay team, contact their local office or donate online.

Campaigns in Shenandoah and Warren counties had good turnouts at the recent events, but organizers noticed a drop from last year’s participation.

It’s indicative of a nationwide trend, said Aimee Nuwer, community manager of Relay events in Warren, Clarke and Winchester-Frederick. Relay might be a spring event, but she said preparation can take up to nine months and frustrate volunteers because it’s so time consuming.

Clarke County will hold its event from 4 p.m. today to 6 a.m. Sunday at Johnson-Williams Middle School, 200 Swan Ave., Berryville.

Winchester’s will be from noon to midnight next Saturday at James Wood High School, 161 Apple Pie Ridge Road, Winchester. Previously, an overnight event like in Warren and Clarke, Nuwer said moving it to the daytime, like Shenandoah’s event, might attract more people.

“We’ve been trying to stress that the event is open to everyone,” she said. “You don’t have to be just a participant.”

In Shenandoah, numbers were down to about 400 this year, though Orndorff hopes the move from the fairgrounds to a shorter, more accessible track at Massanutten Military Academy will encourage greater participation in coming years.

“I think now that everyone has a positive feel for the MMA track … I think that will help draw people back in,” she said.

For $5, donors can buy a white luminary bag to use at their local Relay for Life event, in memory of a loved one who fought cancer. For $25, they can purchase a gold bag or five white bags. For $50, the team recently started selling tiki torches with a gold plate to honor a loved one. Brinkley said after the event, he packages the gold plates to return to donors who purchased them.

Other amounts are welcome too, and Brinkley said donors can give any time, just because.

“Every year I think I’ll hang it up,” he said. “It takes a lot of time.”

But having watched numerous friends and family lose their fight to cancer, he said it’s important to him to keep fighting for a cure.

“What I would love to see is more people willing to participate to raise money for cancer and to be able to form teams for next year,” he said. “You know, more teams than we have now.”

“In other words I would like to see this event get larger,” he said. “All of us working together for one goal, and that’s to raise money for cancer.”

Contact the regional Harrisonburg Relay for Life office at 540-434-3360 or the Winchester office at 540-667-2315. For more information, visit

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or

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