In past years, Relay for Life never really hit home with the youth in the community, Mary LaPrairie said.
Something changed this year.
Youth participation has jumped to a total of 60 teams, up from 36 last year - now comprising roughly half of the 123 teams registered.
"There's finally been an 'a-ha' moment among the youth this year," said LaPrairie, chair of the Rely for Life of South Washington County Luminaria Committee. "It's like a dream come true."
Increased youth involvement is also evidenced by the fact that five high school students will deliver the luminaria speech during the event.
Relay for Life of South Washington County will be June 3 and June 4 at East Ridge High School.
Currently there are 1,266 participants registered and $56,132. 21 has been raised.
Last year's event raised $218,000. This year's goal is $230,000.
"Relay for Life is a party with a purpose," LaPrairie said. "It's a fabulous day of togetherness while doing good -- it's like the perfect storm."
LaPrairie said it's difficult to attribute the increase in youth involvement to one thing, however she has a pretty good guess.
"Ann Haering's death made cancer very real," LaPrairie said. "As sad and tragic as it is that Ann didn't make it, I think the students are mad that it happened and they want to do something about it."
Remembering a classmate and a dear friend
Earlier this winter Haering, an East Ridge High School senior, died of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which really touched a lot of people's lives, said Kelsey Lisowski, the youth chair for this year's Relay for Life.
"I know there's a lot of people that were affected by Ann's passing even though they may not have even known who she was -- it had that effect on everyone," she said. "I think now there's a motivation for more people to get involved even if they didn't know her."
Lisowski said it is a safe assumption that more youth teams formed this year in response to Haering's death. There are a total of three Relay for Life teams walking in Haering's honor.
The first two teams, "Annie's Pack 1" and "Annie's Pack 2," are made up of Haering's family and closest friends.
Alli Rice, one of Haering's closest friends and team captain, said the team members went back and fourth on whether or not they wanted to walk in Relay for Life this year because the wounds of Haering's death are still so fresh.
"We're doing it in honor of her because we know she'd be with us," she said. "But it really is emotionally draining almost because it is so fresh."
Relay for Life teams, made up of 20 people, will be selling leukemia-ribbon bracelets as well as selling charms that include a picture of Haering.
Rice said the most difficult aspect of Relay for Life this year will be watching the survivor lap.
"The survivor lap will be extremely hard to watch knowing that Ann should be there with us," she said. "But, if she was with us, she'd have a big smile all the time, so we have to remember that."
The third team honoring Haering's memory is "Hearts for Haerings," which is made up of Haering's classmates at East Ridge.
"The event is near and dear to our heart," said team captain Nikki Soler.
In order to raise money for Relay for Life, Soler said her team will be hosting both a bake sale and a car wash during the Woodbury Lion's Garage Sale this weekend.
Even though Soler agrees with Rice that Relay for Life will be sad, and even difficult, she said the amount of good they can do makes the sadness bearable.
"We don't want people to have to go through what we did because we know how hard that pain is," she said. "It's good to know that you are helping the people that still are here and are remembering those who aren't here."