The American Cancer Society's Relay for Life events are always about memorializing those lost to cancer and celebrating those who survived, but this year's Harrison County relay is adding one more element -- a large dose of fun.
This year's event will be a Parrot Party from 5 to 10 p.m. Friday in Jones Park at U.S. 90 and U.S. 49 in Gulfport.
While there still will be special services and fundraising, the tradition of walking laps all night around the track will be replaced with a time to socialize and enjoy live music by the Jimmy Buffett tribute band The Landsharks.
Tommy Murphy, a volunteer with Harrison County Relay for Life, said they are one of the first groups to get permission from the national organization to try a new format for the annual fundraiser.
The event will start with a 5K fun run and walk, followed by an hour of meaningful recognition of survivors.
"It's very emotional and everyone can cry from 5 to 6," Murphy said, "but from 6 to 9 it's nothing but a party. We want everyone to have a good time."
From 9 to 10 p.m., there will be more tributes paid with luminaria, pictures and a lap around the track.
Carlene Alfonso, event chair and a two-time cancer survivor, said this "party with a purpose" will make for a more relaxed evening.
"It can be pretty hard on us survivors. When you have to walk 24 hours, it takes a lot out of you," she said. "We really do think it's going to be a celebration."
It was about 30 years ago when Alfonso had her first bout with cancer. She said treatment was even harder then. Alfonso said it's important to let people know cancer can be beat.
"I don't know anyone who has not been touched by cancer," she said. "It's important to let people know you can live through this. I lost my hair twice and went through chemo twice. If you come and see me, you won't even know I had cancer. It's not a death sentence."
This year's goal is to raise $50,000 for cancer research. There still is time to put together a fundraising team, but Alfonso said everyone may join the celebration, regardless of whether they donate or do not have a team.
This year, there are 54 teams and sign-up will continue until the event. Throughout the event, teams will raise money in their own ways, such as food and drink sales, raffles for prizes and face-painting.
Murphy saw his wife and father go through cancer. Both he and Alfonso agreed treatment has greatly improved in recent decades, and Murphy said he attributes advancements to fundraisers such as this one.
Admission to the event is free.