NEWPORT CITY â âI couldnât do it without you. You are my backbone and you are a gift.âÂ
Those were the words Jessica Blais, community executive for the American Cancer Society, brought to Columbia Forest Products employees Monday. Blais was reading from a statement given by someone she identified as Judy, a cancer patient at the Vermont Cancer Center in Burlington.
âShe told me that because of our financial assistance, navigation and transportation to treatment, that she wakes up in the morning,â said Blais of Judy. Blais told the employees Judy was speaking to people like them.
âYouâre the reason Judy lives every day. Thatâs a pretty big feeling.â
Blais was at the plant Monday to surprise employees with a certificate of appreciation for their efforts in the Relay for Life, a national fundraiser sponsored by the American Cancer Society.
The local relay takes places at North Country Union High School each June. Columbia Forest Products' employees participate yearly in the local relay.
The local relay is so popular with employees that the company has two teams.
Columbia Forest Products has also been a Relay for Life corporate sponsor. Over the years, the two teams and their corporate sponsorship contributed between $130,000 and $140,000. The money helps with cancer research at the University of Vermont. The American Cancer Society also has Hope Lodge, where cancer patients and their families can stay at no cost, and Road to Recovery, a program that helps cancer patients get to treatment.
The American Cancer Societyâs award means a lot to Columbia Forest Products employee Millie Nault-Gero, who helped run the companyâs Relay for Life Team up until two years ago.
âFor me, itâs little bit of a celebration personally,â said Nault-Gero, who is marking her twentieth year cancer free. âWe have a dynamite team.â
Even though she is cancer free, Nault-Gero continues to fight for others who have cancer.
The certificate also means a lot to current team captain Melvin Walters. âA lot of hard work goes in it,â he said of the Relay for Life. âA lot of friends and family had or have cancer.â
Walter knows this all too well. His father died of cancer when he was 12.
Glenn Foster, operations manager for Columbia Forest Products, said the certificate represents the hard work the team members do.
The certificate is not a common occurrence. Blue Cross and Blue Shield and National Life Group received the award a few years ago.
âItâs pretty special,â Blais said. The award represents the number of people who participate in the event, the number of years of dedication and service, the number of lives they areÂ impacting positively, because the funding they're providing is huge and they need to be reminded of that. Everybody needs a thank you once in a while.â