Stephanie Pagnotta participated in her first Relay For Life walk last year in Katonah-Lewisboro and felt such a connection to the event she decided to bring it to Port Chester-Rye Brook this year.
“My sister lives in the area and asked me to be on her team last year,” Pagnotta said. “I had never heard of the event. I lost my mom about two years ago to cancer, so last year’s walk was about a year after she died. It was such a great experience and you see so many people raising money for this great cause. Port Chester is such a welcoming community, so I thought they’d welcome this event with open arms.”
In July of last year, Pagnotta reached out to officials with Relay For Life, an event sponsored by the American Cancer Society that raises money for cancer research while also honoring those who have battled cancer. Thursday night, Pagnotta and about 250 others crowded into the Capitol Theater for an event to kickoff the first ever Port Chester-Rye Brook Relay For Life walk.
Pagnotta said things moved a bit slow over the summer while trying to organize the event, as she and walk officials picked Port Chester Middle School to hold the event. Eventually, though, she got the OK from the district for the event thanks in part, Pagnotta said, to District Clerk Yvette Segal.
The walk will be June 15th at the middle school from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. All Relay For Life walks go overnight. Jamie Copperman, special events manager with the American Cancer Society, said the events go overnight because “cancer doesn’t sleep, so for one night neither do we.”
Copperman said there were 14 Relay For Life walks last year in Westchester and this year the number has increased to 17. She also said that 54 teams have signed up for the Port Chester-Rye Brook walk, including five that signed up at Thursday’s kickoff event. So far they’ve raised nearly $8,000.
“We’ve got a few months to go and anyone can go to our site to sign up and either start a team or join a team,” Copperman said. “People can sign up until right before the race, but the earlier the better.”
She added that there is a $10 fee for signing up, which goes into the donation pile, although cancer survivors are exempt from the fee.
Copperman said the event tries to reach out to locals in the community, and at Thursday’s event a group of local students read a poem in English and Spanish. There are many students involved in the event, especially those from King Street School, where Pagnotta is a fifth grade teacher.
“All of my students are involved,” she said. “I think it’s important to teach the kids about being humanitarians. The school work is obviously very important, but so is learning about character and being a good person. Of my students, I’d say about 75 percent of them know someone with cancer, or have a relative with it or who has passed away from it. They’ve been excited to participate in it. About twice a week we check the site to see new teams that have signed up and how much each team as raised. The kids are super duper competitive.”
One group from the school that has already signed up for the event is the Purple Squirrels, a group of boys from first to fifth grade. Marialaina Sileo’s son, Lucas Sileo, is a member of the team.
“It’s important to show the kids how they can help out with such an important cause,” Marialaina Sileo said. “It’s quite amazing how many people came out for the kickoff event and are involved already. It’s really exciting to see so many kids so enthusiastic about it.”
Sileo said the Purple Squirrels, a name the boys came up with, are kind of a brother group to the Purple Angels, a group of girl students from kindergarten-fifth grade also partaking in the event.
Pagnotta added that she’s had a lot of help and support from various others, including other teachers at King Street School and the committee organizing the event. Even the space at the Capitol Theater for Thursday’s event was donated for the big kickoff.
“I’m so grateful so many people are already helping to organize and set this up,” Pagnotta said. “We have such a supportive community here in Port Chester.”
Anyone interested in signing up for the walk can do so on the walk's website by clicking here.