It's never too early to get involved in Relay For Life Cole County.
Just ask Gina Martin or Brenda Rieke.
Martin began volunteering with the annual event in 1995, it's inaugural year.
Her role was small then.
"I started as a team member," she said. "I worked to raise money and raise awareness (for the American Cancer Society)."
She's volunteered long enough to have, at one time, chaired the relay.
In its first year, the event only had a handful of teams involved and it had to draw teams from surrounding counties.
"We've grown a lot," Martin said. "Not only Cole County, but the smaller surrounding counties."
The smaller counties have so many participants, they now hold their own Relays For Life, she said.
And for the most part, money raised for cancer research through the event has increased every year, she said.
Last year, the Cole County event alone raised $243,777 and has raised more than $5 million since 1995, said Ashley Hale, American Cancer Society community development coordinator.
It was the top relay in Missouri in 2017 and second in its 13-state region.
Ninety-five teams participated last year, along with 286 cancer survivors, like Martin.
Not only are survivors involved, so are friends and families of cancer patients.
Rieke had a friend involved in the relay several years ago and began volunteering simply to help him, she said.
Then her brother, Mike Ortmeyer, fell ill with esophageal cancer. At 60, it took his life.
"Being involved with the volunteers ... all of these people were here for me," Rieke said. "You make lots of friends doing it."
Those friends can be young or old and come from all walks of life, Hale said.
And they sometimes become members of relay teams.
Rieke's family now has a team, she said. They are known as the Hummingbird Heroes Fighting Cancer.
"The hummingbird is special to our family," she said. "My mother loved hummingbirds."
Rieke's is one of about 45 teams already signed up for the June 1 event. It starts at 6 p.m. and ends at 2 a.m. Organizers have set a goal of getting 95 teams and 300 cancer survivors involved in this year's event.
Volunteers are needed now and the night of the event. They can be all ages, Martin said.
"The more volunteers the better," Hale said. "Then, it's not so much work for a few people."
Awards are given to the team that raises the most money, the team with the "best-decorated campsite," the team with the best savory food item, the team with the best sweet food item and the best team captain. All are decided by votes the night of the relay.
Here are a few of the volunteer positions that need filling: The Entertainment Lead, oversees all entertainment during the relay; Fundraising Lead, works with team captains, team members and the community to raise funds; Logistics Lead, organizes and creates an implementation plan for site selection, event schedule, event layout, signage, electrical and mechanical materials, restrooms, trash, setup and cleanup; Marketing Lead, creates, develops and implements marketing and publicity to raise awareness for the relay; Mission Lead, educates participants about the American Cancer Society's mission and engages them in activities related to ACS guidelines about nutrition and physical activity; Recognition Lead, serves to ensure that all team captains, team members, volunteers, sponsors and event participants know how much they are appreciated; and Youth Champion Lead, advocates for building youth engagement in the relay.
For more information, visit main.acsevents.org/site/TR/RelayForLife/RFLCY18NOR?pg=entry&fr_id=88155.