Lights twinkle in the sky, and slowly fade from sight.

There is no sound to be heard, none except for the passing cars on a nearby highway. Everyone is silent, nothing but the beating of hearts accompanied by the inhaling and exhaling of breath.

At this moment, everyone stops to honor and remember those who have waged a war against a ugly, life killing disease.

Every participant that is present is there for one reason-cancer.

Whether it was a family member, friend, or co-worker, these people have experienced what this monster of a disease can do, and they are here to see it end.

Relay For Life is an organization dedicated to the research and demolition of all types of cancer. Hundreds of Sumter County residents come together to unite on the campus of the University of West Alabama (UWA) for the purpose of beating cancer.

Surrounding participants are the smells of homemade southern food being sold in handmade booths to raise funds for this hope

Bands and musicians sing, and everywhere one looks, a smiling face in a purple shirt that reads, survivor, greets people. This the Sumter County Relay For Life.


University students are accustomed to attending class, listening to lectures and taking exams, but Dr. Tina Jones, executive director of the Division of Economic Development and Outreach and professor of English who teaches writing for the mass media in the integrated marketing communications (IMC) program, takes her class to another level by having her students raise thousands of dollars for Relay for Life.

“I feel students work harder when their assignments connect to real world experiences,” said Jones. “Relay for Life offers hands-on applications for writing press releases, fundraising, campaign planning, and branding practice.

IMC is a specialized major that UWA offers students who want a career in public relations, broadcasting, web design and graphic design.

During the class, students learn how to write press releases and newspaper features, with the main project given to the students by Jones is a public relations campaign for the Sumter County Relay For Life.

Dividing the class up into three groups, each one is assigned with creating a theme and a mission, and implementing it through the use of social media and a face-to-face communication.

Through this project students are able to get quality hands-on training that will provide them with skills necessary for future careers.

With their class work, students will be able to take the completed assignments and place them in their portfolios.

“Even though I’m not going into the public relations field, the graphics created for the campaign I can put in my portfolio,” said senior IMC, Sarah Hansen. “This will help me with my future career.”

The Spring 2017 writing for the mass media class raised nearly $3,000 through their social media campaigns.

Team one chose to focus their campaign on prostate cancer and chose the slogan “Ball Out on Cancer.” They used their platform to market the males on the UWA campus.

Teams two and three chose to focus on the entire student population and use the themes of “Stepping Out on Cancer” and “Don’t Take the L.” Both of these campaigns educated all demographics on the symptoms and causes of various cancers.

“The Spring 2017 class did a great job with their campaigns,” said Jones. “I think they utilized social media to their advantage and increased the number of online donations received for Sumter County Relay for Life.”

By raising these funds, the writing for the mass media class helped the Sumter County Relay For Life break their record for the most funds raised with over $31,000 in 2017.

Dr. Amy Jones, associate professor of digital communications at UWA, is the event lead of the Sumter County Relay For Life.

“We had a lot more student involvement in the 2017 event, but there was more student involvement before the event,” said Jones. “The pre-fundraising students did took us over our goal.”


Relay For Life is an organization that touches the lives of many cancer survivors and caretakers.

To shed light to the importance of the organization her students were raising money for, Tina Jones invited a guest to speak to her writing for the mass media class.

“I had cancer,” said the young women. Jordan Mahaffey, a recent cancer patient sat in front of a classroom with students not much younger than her.

Silence engulfed the room as tear-filled eyes told the story of hospital visits, surgeries and the realization that was death creeping in.

“Hearing Jordan’s story made me want to do everything in my power to raise as much money as I could,” said junior IMC student, BreAnna Johnson. “It made me realize that Relay For Life is so much more than a just a big picture, these are people’s lives.”

Tina Jones asked Mahaffey to come, not to scare her students, but to provide them with the reality of an ugly disease.

Mahaffey’s story helped the students to put a face to the cause they were raising money for. Suddenly it wasn’t just another assignment for these young adults, but rather a mission to raise awareness and funds for another human being.


The night of Relay approached, and hundreds of students and community members gathered on the UWA campus once again to join in the fight.

The three teams from the writing for the mass media class had tables set up ready to experience Relay For Life, some of them for the first time.

As the night continued, all of the students from the three teams linked arm in arm and completed a relay lap just as they had began the class-together.

Twinkling lights in the sky completely fade, but hearts beat as one in order to stop for one night for one cause–cancer.

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