Relay participants and volunteers will be celebrating 20 years during this weekend's Tamaqua and surrounding communities Relay For Life. The 24 hour event will start at 2 p.m. Friday and end 2 p.m. on Saturday at the Lansford stadium.

The first Tamaqua Relay started at the Mahoning Valley Farmer's Market in 1993, and since then has raised over $1 million.

This year's relay theme is "Color a Cure." Teams are encouraged to decorate their tent sites with colors and information that corresponds to their chosen type of cancer. Members are also asked to dress in colored costumes.

"We heard a lot of feedback from those who attended last year's relay at the Panther Valley Football Stadium," said Caylan Chanwik, income development representative of the American Cancer Society, East Central Division. "They liked being back at a stadium for the relay, as the atmosphere allowed all parts of a relay to be closer together, as well as to create the 'community feeling' that a relay is all about."

She added that the Panther Valley School District staff has been helpful and accommodating, and the Panther Valley School District Relay For Life team is generously sponsoring the use of the facilities again this year.

In addition to a full day of events, games, activities and entertainment, there will be a variety of food available for purchase at the relay. The Panther Valley Band Boosters are again helping to coordinate and run the concession stand, with all profits donated to the relay.

One of the event highlights will include a special lap tracking system that participants can use to determine how many laps they've walked, with prizes for those walking the most laps, a tree raffle and a butterfly release at the closing ceremony. Each butterfly that will be released has been purchased in honor of someone currently battling cancer or in memory of someone who has lost their battle with cancer.

"Currently, there are 24 teams and 175 participants registered for the relay this year," said Chanwik. "Our fundraising goal is $88,000."

Although the relay starts at 2 p.m., the opening ceremony and parade of teams will be held at 6 p.m. on Friday to allow those who have to work that day the chance to attend these events.

A Survivor Ceremony will take place at 7 p.m. on Friday, led by the relay's new Survivor Chair Amie Yenser. A special survivors and caregivers lap will take place immediately following the ceremony.

The Luminaria Ceremony, organized by Luminaria Chair Diane O'Donnell, will take place at 9 p.m. on Friday.

"Hundreds of lighted bags will line the track as we honor those currently battling cancer and remember those we've lost to the disease," said Chanwik.

All survivors are invited to return to the relay on Saturday at 8 a.m. for a special survivor's breakfast, free of charge.

The Fight Back Ceremony, led by Mission Chair Dr. Rosalee Rehrig, will take place at 10 a.m. on Saturday. "This ceremony will give us the information and inspiration we need to fight back against this disease," said Rehrig.

Organizers are expressing that the event is free and open to the public. They added that participants do not have to be on a team to attend or walk the track. All survivors are welcome to attend the survivor ceremony, even if they have not registered.

"Our Relay teams fundraise year-round in support of the relay," said Chanwik.

The theme of last year's event was "Rock the Walk." That event, which had 25 teams, 251 participants, and 67 registered survivors, raised $84,500.

The first Relay For Life event was held in 1985 in Tacoma, Wash., by Dr. Gordy Klatt, a colorectal surgeon, who recently received his own cancer diagnosis, and is the nation's largest overnight, 24-hour, nonprofit walk event. All proceeds from the local relay benefit the Carbon-Tamaqua Unit of the American Cancer Society.

For more information, call (570) 874-1413 x2103, (888) 227-5445 or go to www.relayforlife.org/patamaquaarea.