Despite Reorganization By LLS, Newtown Will Have 2014 Light The Night Walk

While organizers of the tenth Relay For Life of Newtown are in their home stretch this week, making final preparations for their 12-hour event taking place May 31–June 1 at Newtown High School, organizers of a similar event are beginning to ramp up their annual efforts.

Tessa Ruggeri, campaign manager for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) of Westchester-Hudson Valley-Connecticut, and Mia Lilienthal, an LLS campaign specialist, co-hosted a meeting for Newtown Light The Night on May 21. Four members of the local committee organizing a local Light The Night (LTN) event attended the meeting at NYA Sports & Fitness Center. In addition to discussing this year’s LTN, the committee addressed concerns about a recent change of personnel and restructuring of LLS.

The Connecticut LLS chapter and the Westchester-Hudson Valley LLS chapter have now combined efforts in LLS’s mission to cure blood cancers around the world including leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, and myeloma, and also improve the quality of life for patients and their families.

LLS has two offices in Connecticut, its main office in Wilton and a branch office in Meriden. As part of the merge of New York and Connecticut chapters, which Ms Ruggeri said took place “about a month ago,” LLS staff was consolidated. Among those no longer working for LLS is Kristen Angell, who served as the LLS Light The Night/Special Events campaign manager for the past three-plus years. She was, among other things, the direct LLS liaison for anyone participating in the last three Newtown LTN events.

Ms Lilienthal, a recent LLS hire, is now serving as the campaign manager for Newtown.

Ms Ruggeri, who has been with LLS for two years, will oversee all of Connecticut’s LTN events. She will be the LLS liaison for two of the Connecticut walks. LLS has one additional full-time employee based in Connecticut.

Campaign specialist Caroline Prenata, another recent addition to the organization, will focus her efforts on the annual Norwalk LTN event, according to Ms Ruggeri.

Dennis Chillemi was recently named the executive director of LLS Westchester-Hudson Valley-Connecticut. LLS’s national headquarters is in White Plains, N.Y.

“LLS began moving into a regional structure earlier this year,” Ms Ruggeri told The Newtown Bee following Wednesday’s meeting. “The LLS Northeast Region now encompasses eight chapters.”

The merging of chapters does not change the mission of LLS, nor does it mean any of its signature Light The Night walks are going to be affected, Ms Ruggeri said.

“We are still focusing on territories that we focused on before,” she said during the May 21 meeting. “For the foreseeable future, we are still in Connecticut.

“We have been promised,” she added, responding to concerns raised Wednesday night, “there will always be a presence in Connecticut.”

Newtown’s Light The Night, she said, is not in jeopardy.

“I have not been told that there will not be walks after this,” Ms Ruggeri said. “We’ve just hired two staff members. Our leadership has changed, but my day-to-day work hasn’t really changed. Mia and I just do a little more traveling now,” she said with a laugh. “We go where we need to go each day.”

The merging of the Connecticut and New York chapters, she said, “basically erased this invisible line that had stopped us from working together.

“We’re still working in Connecticut, or New York if that’s where you were before,” she said. “We’re just one chapter now. It’s one big name, but we’re working all together.”

2014 Newtown Light The Night

An average of 200 Light The Night walks are held across the country each year. As in years past, four such walks are being planned for Connecticut this year.

Newtown’s event is the first of the 2014 LLS season in Connecticut, and is scheduled for Saturday, September 27, at NYA Sports & Fitness Center. It will be the sixth annual Light The Night in town, and the fifth to be held at Fairfield Hills. The first walk, in 2009, took place at Newtown High School.

Walks are also scheduled in South Windsor on Thursday, October 16; New Haven on Saturday, October 18; and Norwalk on Friday, October 24. Ms Ruggeri will oversee the South Windsor and New Haven events, while Ms Prenata will oversee the Norwalk event.

Thirteen teams have already formed for the Newtown walk, Ms Ruggeri announced on May 21. That is just four teams shy of the 17 total that participated in last year’s event at NYA.

More than $3,000 has already been raised by the teams, even though the formal kick-off for the 2014 Newtown walk will not happen until sometime in August.

“The sooner they start fundraising the better,” Ms Ruggeri said. Teams are welcome to register as early as they wish to, she said; online registration is available at lightthenight.org/ct.

The celebratory walk is done at twilight, and participants carry color-coded balloons: white for survivors, red for supporters, and gold to remember those who have died from a form of blood cancer. Newtown’s walk is 2.2 miles long. Walkers cover a 1.1-mile course twice, staying within the Fairfield Hills campus the entire time.

LTN is similar to Relay For Life in that teams do fundraising in the months leading up to the walk, with proceeds of their efforts donated to LLS. The events differ, however, in that they are much shorter events — LTN lasts about four hours total — and mark the formal end of fundraising efforts (although teams are allowed to continue fundraising through the end of each calendar year). While continued fundraising by teams is a large part of each Relay For Light, Light The Night teams will only occasionally host tents or displays, focusing instead on the shorter walk by patients, caregivers, friends and family.

A new balloon design was introduced last year, with plastic balloons illuminated by a battery-operated bulb, replacing the latex balloons used in past events.

Last year was fabulous,” said Ginny Chion, a member of the Newtown Light The Night Committee, said last week. “Those new balloons were wonderful.”

Ms Ruggeri said the balloons will be upgraded again this year, with the lights inside the balloon to be color coded to match their exteriors.

“It should make the walk look even better than last year,” she said.

Each walk hosts an Honored Hero, a blood cancer patient or survivor who shared their story during the event. This year’s Newtown walk will also pay tribute to a Memorial Hero. Details about both heroes will be announced at a later time.

Each walk has a fundraising goal. While it has not yet been formally set, Ms Ruggeri said last week she is hoping to see the Newtown walk set its goal at $100,000.

“That’s a really good stretch goal, something exciting to reach for,” she said.

An estimated 400 people attended the 2013 Newtown walk, former campaign manager Kristen Angell told The Bee following the event. Last year’s goal was $88,000. The 2013 event, Ms Lilienthal said May 29, raised $84,000.

Each walk also includes entertainment, and tents by vendors and local organizations.

Teams planning events to raise funds for LLS’s Newtown Light The Night event are encouraged to contact The Newtown Bee with information about their events, which will be shared in print and online. Fundraisers must fully benefit LLS in order to be publicized in The Bee. Contact Associate Editor Shannon Hicks at 203-426-3141 or Shannon@thebee.com.

Volunteers are needed for Light The Night events, including those who will guide walkers along the route. For details about volunteer opportunities or to register, contact Ms Lilienthal at 203-427-2045.

Vendors and organizations that would like to participate at Light The Night are also welcome to contact Ms Lilienthal. There is no charge to participate in Light The Night. LLS will provide tables and some chairs; groups should provide their own 10-by-10-foot pop-up tent. Tablecloths and other logo materials are “welcome and encouraged,” said Ms Ruggeri.

Sponsorship opportunities are also available for LTN walks, including a two-for-one mile marker special that is available for local companies until August 31. Contact Ms Lilienthal for details.

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