All throughout Johnson County, flocks of pink plastic flamingos are taking over carefully selected yards.
Stealthy volunteers are going out into the community in the late afternoon to set up dozens of the tacky lawn ornaments.
Another homeowner has been “flocked.” The flamingos will be taken down after one day, and the homeowner can then make a small donation to Relay for Life to choose who the next flocking victim will be.
“Sometimes we can sneak up to a house, they’re having dinner, and they don’t even know we’re in their yard. We get done, and ring the doorbell and run away like little kids,” said Patty Meade, organizer of Cancer Fears Prayer team and instigator of the flamingo pranks.
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With the annual Franklin Relay for Life event three weeks away, local teams are using any way they can to try and raise money for cancer research and programs.
From partnering with local restaurants to community-wide rummage sales to murder-mystery dinners, organizers have found that the more creative the idea, the more success it will have.
“We have fun when we do our stuff. If we’re going to do it, and we want people to donate, we want to give them something for their money,” Meade said.
Relay for Life is a nationwide fundraiser of the American Cancer Society, conducted in hundreds of local communities each year.
In the months leading up to the event, teams spend months raising money, which goes to research and programs such as giving patients rides to their treatments and workshops to help women deal with hair loss.
The centerpiece is a 24-hour walk-a-thon, where team members take laps while bands perform and movies play. One team member walks at all times.
Special activities such as the Luminaria Ceremony, where participants walk in the dark while luminarias are lit to remember those with cancer, and the Survivor’s Lap, add poignancy to the otherwise festive atmosphere.
“The Survivor Lap, that had the most impact for me, knowing that all of the money that we raised was helping,” said Jessie Witherington, 15, founder of the Teens Tired of Cancer team.
Jessie formed her own team three years ago. Her grandmother had been diagnosed with cancer, and with her mom’s involvement in the organization, she decided she was old enough to take part in Relay for Life as well.
She gathered her sister, 11-year-old Julie, and some friends from Clark-Pleasant schools to help with the fundraising effort.
“Jessie is practically my sister, so I just wanted to be there to support her,” said Magen Engelhardt, 15.
The team’s largest fundraiser is a car wash at Donatos in Greenwood, this year scheduled for 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday.
They had a chili cookoff, and have sold handmade neon-colored bookmarks and small lapel pins raising awareness of different types of cancer to bring in funds.
Every year has shown improvement. After raising $500 in 2013, they brought in more than $1,000 last year. The team has already raised $600.
“We’ve learned from our mistakes from the first year, and just tried to get better every year,” Jessie said.
Fundraising started as early as last August, with teams hoping to give themselves as much time as possible to hit their donation goals.
Scouting for Change is conducting a benefit car show, Hot Rods for Hope.
Another group, Pridgeon & Clay, has sold lunches at the factory to raise money. The team also has challenged their co-workers at the factory to quit smoking, then donate the money they would have spent on cigarettes to Relay for Life.
Cancer Fears Prayer is mostly known for their flamingo stunt. From mid-April until early June, the group roves from house to house setting up the plastic decorations.
At each site, they place a sign informing them that they’ve been flocked, and advertising for Relay for Life. People donate to the group to get them to prank other people’s homes, many times families who have been affected by cancer.
The good-natured display helps raise awareness, while also uniting people who have survived or are in the middle of cancer treatment, Meade said.
“If we come across a family who is battling cancer, or a survivor, we ask them if they’ll come out and pray with us before we leave,” she said. “It’s a way to connect with them. We even made up T-shirts that say, ‘Flock, Pray and Roll.’”
This year’s event is themed Luau for Life, and organizers have created a Hawaiian party for the June 13 and 14.
A group of hula dancers will do demonstrations. People will be encouraged to wear Hawaiian shirts for one lap and leis for another, They can compete in a Hawaiian cooking contest, and listen to bands, watch magicians and play games set up for their amusement.
The two weekends before event, volunteers will help to “paint the town purple,” in recognition of Relay for Life’s representative colors. They’ll focus on U.S. 31, putting up ribbons and signs along the highway, as well as setting up purple cardboard boxes in the median to catch people’s eyes.
Organizers have tweaked some aspects of the event, most notably its location.
Relay for Life, which had been held at Johnson Memorial Hospital for almost all of its lifespan, moves to Custer Baker Intermediate School this year. Construction at the hospital forced the change, Witherington said.
The box car race has been changed to create a more spontaneous design contest. Teams will be provided boxes that they can decorate any way they want.
Contestants will get to race the cars on a predetermined track, carrying hard-boiled eggs that they need to keep safe.
“The whole premise is the road to recovery and the journey that a cancer patient takes, so the egg represents the precious cargo that you’re carrying as you take this journey,” Witherington said.
Organizers hope that efforts to raise enthusiasm around Relay for Life will lead to more donations, said Jamie Witherington, chairwoman of the Franklin event.
The goal last year was $129,000, though teams only raised $106,000. Organizers hope to bring in $110,000 this time around.
So far, 28 teams have registered, raising nearly $50,000.
Cancer Fears Prayer has brought in the most money so far, generating more than $15,000 in donations for Relay for Life. Much of that has come from the flamingo displays, as well as $6,400 from a murder-mystery dinner that the group staged at the Johnson County Museum of History in October.
The team’s success stems from its efforts to come up with unique events that raise money. Their activities grab your attention, and that makes people more likely to donate, Meade said.
“You have to put something out there that people want to do,” she said.
When: 9 a.m. June 13 to 9 a.m. June 14
Where: Custer Baker Intermediate School, 101 W. State Road 44, Franklin
How to get involved or donate: Visit www.RelayforLife.org/franklinin.