April 12, 2004

Relay team          

By Eric Rangus

Last year, when Susan Lee joined the volunteer planning committee for the American Cancer Society's Intown/Emory Relay for Life, she soon discovered that one of her tasks would be recruiting participants from within the Emory community. That would entail giving presentations to groups around campus about the April 16 relay's format, its history and its fundraising goals.

Her response? "I'm not doing this on my own," said Lee, manager of faculty appointments in Emory College administration, and an inexperienced public speaker.

In stepped Jodi Gup, chair of the planning committee and senior director of the Emory Parent Program. Rather than have Lee go it alone, the two teamed up for a series of campus appearances--more than a half-dozen, ranging from familiar audiences like Emory College staff and administrators to Human Resources and the president's administrative council.

The networking part came a bit easier for Lee, a self-described "joiner," who contacted acquaintances from Employee Council, the University Senate (she is a former member of both) and the President's Commission on the Status of Women (she is a current member), among others, to line up presentation engagements. Gup, a natural public speaker, was more comfortable with the actual pitch and took the presentation lead, while Lee backed her up and also focused on printed advertising.

The sum was a team that criss-crossed campus for months, drumming up the most support ever for what is one of the American Cancer Society's biggest fundraisers, as well as an important outreach activity for the Emory community.

While students long have been avid relay supporters, Lee and Gup's efforts have encouraged more staff and faculty to participate than ever before. "What has amazed me is that so many people come up to us, and say, 'I'm a 10-year survivor,'" said Gup. While several members of the Emory community, including Gup, Lee and Sorority and Fraternity Life's Andrea Gaspardino, are on or assisting the relay planning committee, the event is inclusive of the entire Druid Hills and Decatur communities.

"When you hear these stories, you can't help but be moved and realize that every day is a blessing," Gup continued. "The things we discuss and treat as important--'I should lose weight' or 'I have a date,' 'Work is tough right now'--are actually petty. This puts everything in perspective."

Both Gup and Lee have been involved with Relay for Life for several years but in different capacities. Lee went to her first relay several years ago because her brother John was involved with planning. Their mother, aunt and uncle all survived cancer; their grandmother did not. Lee's mom went along to that first relay, planning to stay just a few minutes, but ended up walking in the survivor's lap. Ruth Lee bought a new outfit for the 2004 relay a couple weeks ago.

"The track is lined with banners advertising hints for improving your health," Lee said. "The first time I walked I made some changes, like eating more fruits and vegetables. I thought it was important because of my family's history with cancer."

Gup's family doesn't have a history of cancer, but the disease has killed several family friends. Looking for volunteer opportunities four years ago, Gup got involved with the American Cancer Society.

"As for the event, people may not say it but many are like, 'Oh, another walk/run, we're always bombarded by this,'" Gup said. "But this is one of those events you come to, you participate in, and you want to do it year after year because it's so much fun."

The overnight relay at the Druid Hills High School track runs from 7 p.m on Friday, April 16, though 7 a.m., Saturday, April 17. The Relay for Life actually begins at 6 p.m. with a reception for cancer survivors, who are invited to introduce themselves and then walk the opening lap.

For the following 12 hours all participating teams (Emory has more than 30 teams from Campus Life, the chemistry department, college administration, Employee Council, HR, Miller-Ward Alumni House and many student-led squads) will keep at least one member walking around the track. Lee is captain of her college administration team--"Emory College Lifesavers"--while Gup, since she has administrative duties on relay night, asked two friends to co-captain her 20-person team.

While there are serious undertones (a 10 p.m. "luminaria" ceremony, during which the track is lit only by candles with bagpipers playing in the background, is particularly poignant), the relay is more like a picnic or a carnival than anything else. Musicians from Emory and Shamrock Middle School will perform, and there will be a silent auction on the Druid Hills baseball field. Teams are encouraged to bring tents and lawn chairs. Some refreshments will be provided, and families are encouraged to attend.

In 2001, the first time the Intown/Emory Relay was held, it raised $35,000 for the American Cancer Society. The last two have raised more than $100,000. "It's not hard to raise money for the cancer society because it's a cause everyone believes in, and that's the selling point," Gup said.

While most of the teams are set, walkups are encouraged and donations in any amount are always appreciated. The committee ordered more than 100 extra T-shirts to hand out to people who might want to participate on a whim or just spend a night encouraging others who do.

"Even if all people want to do is come to the relay, they can," Lee said. "Because once you come to one, you're going to come back next year. And you'll want to be on a team. Then next year, when I send e-mails about whether I can come present to your office, hopefully you'll say yes."

Both Lee and Gup have longtime ties to Emory. Lee's father was Emory postmaster for many years; she was born at Emory Hospital, grew up in a house off Clifton Road and graduated from Druid Hills High School. Both her brothers are Emory graduates.

Lee herself graduated from Emory College in 1988 with an English degree. Two weeks after Commencement, she was hired for a job in the economics department. "When I went for the interview, I had to ask where the building was," Lee quipped. "I had completely avoided the subject as a student."

In 2000 Lee moved to Emory College administration as executive assistant to then-dean Steve Sanderson. When Bobby Paul was named interim dean a year later, Lee moved to her current position, where she works with no-longer-interim Dean Paul and Senior Associate Dean of Faculty Cris Levenduski on all manner of faculty issues from recruitment to research on retention. "I intended to go to graduate school, but I wanted to work a year to earn a little money and got hooked."

A native of Pensacola, Fla., Gup's parents are both Emory graduates. Gup earned a bachelor's degree in American studies from Tulane University and moved to Atlanta upon graduation. Looking to go into teaching and trying to decide whether to enter higher or elementary education, she chose the latter. That was, until she started meeting people from Emory, who talked up the University as a great place to be.

"I never knew there was a different side to academia than teaching, something like Institutional Advancement," said Gup, who also has two master's degrees from Georgia State in early childhood education and human resources management.

Next month will be her five-year anniversary at Emory. Gup started with the Association of Emory Alumni, then was promoted to a position in the parent program, where she leads event planning and fundraising efforts aimed at moms and dads of Emory undergraduates.

Gup said her successful collaboration with Lee could be the first step in a new outreach effort, not just professionally but personally, too. "The thing I love about Emory is that there are so many people here I would enjoy working with and would like to know better," she said. "There are opportunities for collaboration; you just have to find them."


American Cancer Society's Intown/Emory Relay for Life

When: Friday, April 16, 7 p.m., to Saturday, April 17, 7 a.m.

Where: Druid Hills High School track, 1798 Haygood Drive.

What: Teams of volunteers will circle the track nonstop for 12 hours to raise money for the American Cancer Society. Event includes music, a silent auction and some refreshments. Spectators and walk-up participants are welcome. Relay includes a cancer survivor ceremony at 6 p.m. and a luminaria ceremony at 10 p.m.

What else: Luminaria candles to honor cancer survivors, as well as those who succumbed to the disease, can be purchased through April 15 for $10. To purchase, contact Gup (jgup@emory.edu), Lee (slee05@emory.edu) or Andrea Gaspardino (amgaspa@emory.edu).

How much: Admission is free, donations are appreciated.