Niagara Gazette

May 17, 2013

Virtual team: Falls soldiers in Afghanistan 'join' Saturday's Relay for Life

Falls soldiers in Afghanistan 'join' Saturday's Relay for Life on Old Falls Street

By Michele DeLuca
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — A group of hometown troops stationed in Afghanistan will participate “virtually” in the Niagara Falls Relay for Life on Saturday, a fundraising event for the American Cancer Society.

Two local airmen, who have family members leading Saturday’s event on Old Falls Street, will be holding a fundraising barbecue along with weightlifting and ping pong competitions among their fellow soldiers and the plan is to have a video screen erected so those participating in the relay in Niagara Falls can see the event being held overseas.

Airman Patrick Little, whose mom is a cancer survivor and whose family has participated in a relay every year since his grandfather’s cancer diagnosis 13 years ago, is planning the event through his sister, Kristina Groff, who now works at the American Cancer Society as special events manager.

He was already in Afghanistan with his unit from the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station’s 107th Airlift Wing when he learned a fellow airman, Cierra Edwards of Niagara Falls, was the daughter of one of his sister’s top volunteers. It was then the two came up with a plan to hold a “mini” relay on base.

The pair, halfway through their tour and stationed at Camp Bastion — in an area of the country that Little, due to security reasons could not say —are looking forward to the relay, which will include Italian sausage, as well as hot dogs and hamburgers a friend of a friend sent from Germany.

“We actually started just by wanting to fund raise,” Little said during a telephone interview, taking a break from his night shift as an air transportation worker . “Then we realized we could take it a step further and put on our own event here.”

Edwards’ mom, Margie Lengen, is a year-round fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. Her team, Jack and Jill, has raised nearly $2,000 for the relay, and Cierra is inspired by her mother’s efforts, as she wrote in an email to the Gazette. “I swear, sometimes it’s like every other weekend she has a meeting for an event the American Cancer Society is having! Whenever they’re looking for a volunteer for an event — they always count on my mom to be there! 

The Niagara Falls Relay for Life is similar to other relays around the country. Saturday’s event on Old Falls Street, which starts at noon and continues through midnight, will have the “camps” sent up in the center of the street and the relay track will take over the sidewalks the length of the street.  

“The idea is that at least one member from each team is to be on the track at all times,” explained Groff. “It’s really a fun, carnival-like atmosphere,” she added noting that during the relays, teams sell assortment of items from glow-sticks to traveling tacos, offer carnival games or sell items to raise additional money. The public is encouraged to attend and can sign up their own team the day of the event or simply enjoy the music and activity. 

During the event, it is hoped that Little and Edwards family at friends in the Falls will be able to Skype with the pair on a live video feed.

Marie Little, the Town of Royalton town clerk, will be there, walking the first relay which is a celebration of survivors.  She was diagnosed with a rare form of Leukemia but is in remission and has been watching the collaboration of her children with great pride.

“It’s amazing that they are working so hard together toward this goal, even though they’re so far apart,” said Marie, noting the pair surpassed their $5,000 goal late Wednesday night and at a meeting of the Niagara County Municipal Clerk’s Association on Thursday, her colleagues gave her another $320 for the event.

Their hometown’s generosity is not going unoticed in Afghanistan, where Niagara County-based troops will be celebrating just slightly ahead of relay participants due to an eight- hour time difference.  The airmen are planning the event in a cargo yard and are hoping for 100 or more participants. 

Both Little and Edwards noted while being away from home isn’t easy, and that while they’re working hard to get their jobs done, they both look forward to celebrating the halfway mark of their tour on Saturday.

“We really want to thank everybody that’s donated,” Little said. “We have people that have donated online and we have no idea who they are. That’s pretty amazing. People have seen or heard what we’re doing and felt like coming over to our webpage to donate.”

Although this is the 5th year for the Falls relay, and the venue has moved from Sal Maglie Stadium down to Old Falls Street.  The falls will be illuminated purple and there event have special permission to extend our Luminaria Ceremony (small white paper bags lit in honor or memory of loved ones that have battled cancer) through the State Park and down to the falls.  We’ve partnered with the Downtown Niagara Falls Business Association and Old Falls Street to host the event, and Hard Rock Cafe is putting on a lunch and dinner VIP area for cancer Survivors and Caregivers.   

Those who want to donate to Little and Edwards team can go to the website: to click on Team Bastion/Leatherneck.



IF YOU GO • WHAT: Niagara Falls Relay for Life Niagara Falls, a fundraising event for the American Cancer Society • WHEN: Noon to midnight, Saturday • WHERE: Old Falls Street • MORE INFO: Contact Kristina Groff, special events manager, eastern division, American Cancer Society Inc. at 689-6982, ext. 65249