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Youth volunteer coordinator honours cousin's memory at Relay for Life

By: Stacie Snow

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Feb 01, 2012 03:18 pm

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A local volunteer is dedicating her involvement in this year’s Airdrie Relay for Life to her late cousin.

Shelby Karas, who has been involved with the Canadian Cancer Society fundraiser for five years, said this year’s event in Airdrie will greatly miss the efforts of Tracy Work, former co-chair of the Relay for Life volunteer board.

“Relay is such an emotional event,” said Karas, 17.

“It will be harder this year with Tracy having passed away, but it will also mean more.”

Work was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005 and again in 2008 and lost her battle with the disease last August at the age of 39. She is survived by her daughters Emma, 10, and Kayla, 7, and her husband Clint.

“She wanted to live her life to the fullest and not like she was going to die,” said Karas.

“It brought the family together and made us realize what we had. One of the lessons this has taught me is to share everything with your family because you don’t know how long you have.”

The Relay for Life is a 12-hour overnight event that raises money for cancer research. The 2012 event will be the fourth held in Airdrie. Karas is the youth coordinator for this year’s event to be held June 23 at East Lake Athletic Park.

“It is a big sleepover with hundreds of people,” said the Grade 12 student at William Aberhart High School.

“You stay up all night and you are doing it for such a wonderful cause. I saw how good it was for my little cousins who were going through a rough time with their mom. It balanced out the sadness with the fun activities. We first got involved when my dad had colon cancer and as a child, you feel so repressed. It is such a huge family problem and often kids get pushed aside. The Relay gives kids a night of fighting for a cause and having fun.”

Pat Elliott, chair of the Airdrie Relay for Life volunteer board, said she was thrilled to have Karas as a volunteer.

“With an event like Relay, it is important to have participants and volunteers from all different age groups and Shelby brings such an amazing energy to everything she does,” said Elliott.

“She’s been involved right from the start. She has some amazing ideas.”

Karas said the event helps children realize they are not alone.

“It is such a great way to bring everyone together,” she said. “You realize there are more people going through it and so many people are affected. It is a safe atmosphere and you feel so uplifted. Every lap you do, you feel accomplished.”

Karas said everything about the Relay for Life, from the survivors’ lap to the children’s events at night to the support for caregivers, is uplifting.

“In my opinion this isn’t just another charity,” she said.

“It is so near to my heart and everyone will be touched by cancer. You want to feel that community and connectivity. It is an event that makes people feel great and there is something for everyone.”

Karas says she has volunteered since she was a child because the best gift you can give is your time.

“Volunteer work is a very important aspect of life,” she said.

“You can have a 90 per cent average but if you don’t give back, you don’t know how life works. It is one of the best gifts you can give and making someone’s day is a completely unique feeling.”

Karas will be headed to Lethbridge next year pursue a post secondary degree in education.

“I love being with kids,” she said.

“It is such a great experience to make kids feel good about themselves. If you can reach out as a youth to one child, you will see that you will feel better. Seeing their smiles is the most empowering feeling.”

For more information on the Airdrie Relay for Life, visit http://convio.cancer.ca


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