Brynna Williamson • Contributing Writer
From our favorite coffee shops to movie theaters to even some UT Tyler functions, events and locations everywhere are shuttered, their fates still undecided. Will they ever be
Despite all of the challenges faced by the COVID-19 pandemic, here is one event that is still going strong.
Kiara Mills, president of the UT Tyler student organization, Colleges Against Cancer (CAC), is also having a tough time due to COVID. Her organization, a student chapter of the larger American Cancer Society, exists both to raise awareness for cancer and also to promote fundraising efforts.
“Even if you weren’t affected yourself [by cancer], you know somebody who probably was, and you’re not alone,” Mills said.
The CAC may be well-known to many students through the annual ‘Relay for Life’ event held each spring. This fun, lighthearted event ushers in the warm weather by maintaining a theme (last year’s was going to be ‘Superheroes’), catering food, featuring teams of fundraisers that compete to raise the highest amount, and including games and music.
The group was beginning to plan out 2020’s Relay for Life when COVID hit the Tyler area.
Immediately, the caterers had to be canceled, the volunteers sent home, and other engagements terminated--an experience many are probably familiar with. However, though the event was still held online, the cancellation of the physical event unfortunately caused the group's fundraising to take a nosedive.
“[With COVID], everything just kind of… stopped,” Mills said.
This is both literally and figuratively true; due to COVID restrictions, management across the country began to be laid off, and group leaders such as Mills were then ‘traded’ around to whatever management still happened to be available. This means that as early as last year, Mills had a home office of the American Cancer Society in Tyler; they were always available to help schedule things, give advice, or even, she recalls, provide a quiet, friendly place for her to sit and do homework.
Unfortunately, when COVID hit, the Tyler office was permanently closed. She was then ‘traded’ to two other people in management before being assigned to someone working out of Kansas City, leaving her to feel very nearly alone as she struggled to keep her group working and involved.
The support of the students is huge, Mills said. As of right now, the group unfortunately only has a few members who are willing to be active participants; many of the others seem to have faded into the background.
“Nobody is on the same page,” she says. “Everything adds up when you don’t have a team behind you,” Mills adds, implying that the entire student organization seems to be mainly resting on her shoulders.
This is a two-sided blow, as not only is she nearly alone in her efforts, but she is also set to graduate this year.
“We’re currently in a rebuilding stage…and I graduate this year, so if I don’t get enough people to keep it going, then it’s just going to have to die out, I guess,” Mills said.
Her plans moving forward are more hopeful, however: she says that the current plan is to bring in as many people as possible through as many meetings and events as she can organize. This, she believes, should be enough to keep this encouraging group afloat.
Without the support of the other students on campus, the organization which provides so much entertainment and for such a good cause will cease to exist.
If you or someone you know might be interested in becoming a part of this group, please feel free to attend the meetings on Thursdays at 6 p.m. on Zoom or to contact Kiara at firstname.lastname@example.org.