About Allie Raper
A quote that has inspired Allie in all her pathways and endeavours…
“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all”. – Aristotle
Allie believes that when we learn, we grow and when we learn what we love, we are cultivating culture and wisdom. Allie has completed an Honors Bachelor of Arts in Justice, Political Philosophy, and Law and a minor in Political Science at McMaster University where she grew a passion for working with youth. In her time at McMaster, she worked with hundreds of students on an annual basis in a range of fields varying from advocacy, student experience, and athletics.
Now as the Senior Specialist on the Relay For Life Youth Team at the Canadian Cancer Society, Allie works to inspire, empower, and instill leadership in post-secondary students on a National level. On stage, Allie brings an energy that is infectious, a passion that’s undeniable, and a smiling face gazing back at you. And as a young professional, Allie embraces new challenges while also motivating others around her to do the same and become the changemakers that each of us is”.
Relay for Life hosts 260 schools across Canada (annually), and they are always trying to grow that number too. To get involved please visit www.relayforlife.ca/youth
**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.
Sam Demma (00:03):
Allie welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by just introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about the journey that brought you into a position to working with young people today?
Allie Raper (00:16):
I definitely will. Thank you so much, Sam, for having me here today. I’m so excited to chat with you and about leadership and about relay for life and so much more that we’re going to dive into. So this is a loaded question, but for myself, it there’s a couple of different experiences that really inspired me to work with youth. But I think the one that stands out is that not too many years ago, I myself was a youth looking to get involved and to make a difference. And I think that is something that, you know, stuck with me being able to grow in leadership opportunities myself, and then being able to give that back to students as well has been a really full circle experience. And I think working with youth is so special in the sense that they can accomplish so many incredible things. And so many people unfortunately underestimate our youth, but when they put their mind to something and they’re passionate about creating change and they’re passionate about a cause what they’re able to do, the results are just incredible and so impressive. So definitely a full circle experience as to how I got to working with youth as definitely starting out as one of them. But I’ll get into a little bit more about my story. I think in some of the questions coming up.
Sam Demma (01:29):
I love that. That’s amazing. And at what age were you introduced or exposed to student leadership? Was it a high school thing for you? Like, take me back there and explain how it kind of came about for you.
Allie Raper (01:40):
So I remember even being as little as, you know, in recreational soccer teams and things like that. And my mom getting me off the field and saying, Allie, don’t boss people around on the field, or, you know, Allie, you guys are a team work together. And it’s one of those things where it has a little kid. I just always kind of loved that idea of working together and creating a team and kind of wanting to instill that sense of leadership on to other people as I, of course got older, that definitely shaped into more concrete examples. So when I was in elementary school, we had like a primary junior student council. And then I continued my involvement in high school in student council capacities. And then in university is really where my leadership journey took off. I was involved with residence life as a resident orientation advisor.
Allie Raper (02:34):
I was involved with different extracurriculars such as really for life, our student union. I was the manager at one of our student restaurants and so many more different opportunities like that. So it definitely started when I was younger, but it really, really shaped itself full circle when I was in university and came to fruition there. And I think the coolest part looking back on it as there’s a difference between being a leader and putting that hat on, you know, just to have a role or just to be in a position, but there’s a difference when you get to lead something that you are excited about. And I’ve really tried when I was in university to shape things that I was involved in into my interests. And that kind of catapulted me into the role that I am in today. Because cancer touched my life in a few different ways and it really inspired me to want to create a bigger change in leadership capacities to getting me to where we are today.
Sam Demma (03:30):
That’s amazing. And when you think back to your own educational journey, growing up, going through school, did you have teachers, educators that played a pivotal role in your development and believing in you, and maybe you can remember some of those stories or some of those individuals, and can you share something?
Allie Raper (03:48):
Of course. So I do remember my student council teacher I went to high school, might be Ontario and I had a wonderful student council advisor. And I remember being in grade 10 and a little bit nervous to take on a bigger role. I was a great liaison and didn’t know really what I wanted my role to kind of look like. And she saw something in me where I had a lot of interest in athletics. I have a lot of interest in extracurriculars and really trying to bridge that gap. And this teacher sat me down and actually together, we created a new role for student council that has been on a high school student council for 10 plus years. Now I want to say so since I’ve been out of high school and in that moment, it just kind of showed me that, wow, you know, leadership, isn’t fitting one box, it’s not checking off a few things to fit a certain mold, but it’s when someone sees something in you that they’re able to shape an opportunity together with you. And that year we were able to a lot of new things that our high school had never done before, just based on the capacity of that new role that was created. And I think the role was something along the lines of athletics communications officer, but still to this day is such a unique title in itself when you think about structures and whatnot. So pretty cool thing. And, and it was great that that teacher saw something in me that continued for years to come.
Sam Demma (05:10):
Yeah. Oh, that’s amazing. And a lot of the educators are listening to this. Sometimes they don’t even realize the impact they have. Like, you’re the perfect example of someone who was impacted as a young leader and then continue down that journey and is now doing such amazing work in the world. So for them, it’s just kind of gratifying to see it and hear it. So thanks for sharing. Yeah. And so like, tell me more about how you directly got involved with relay. So you ended university and did you know that you wanted to work for relay or how did that connection happen?
Allie Raper (05:40):
Yeah, so it kind of started when I was a little bit younger. My mum is a nurse in the ER and when I was growing up, she was always involved in different volunteer opportunities. And every year her and her coworkers would do relay for life and they would do it in the community. And I remember as a little kid, you know, going to the event with her for a couple hours and seeing people walking laps and understanding that they were fundraising for a cause, but not really understanding the bigger picture, fast forward a few years. And we had a couple of family members diagnosed with cancer. And as a little kid, I think that a lot of the time, you know, your family inevitably, it tries to shelter you from some of those serious conversations. So I knew what cancer was. I knew it was something bad and something serious when someone had it, but really didn’t know the impact that it had on someone as an individual or someone’s family and community.
Allie Raper (06:35):
So when I was in university, I saw relay for life being advertised. And I had a couple friends in first year and we were like, let’s participate. You know, it’s a great event. Let’s get involved, let’s meet some more people from the school and let’s raise money for a great cause because at the end of the day, whether indirectly or directly, we all know someone who’s been affected by cancer. And it was in that moment when I attended that event, I actually have goosebumps right now as I’m explaining this. But I went to my first event in that first year of university as a participant, I just, upon walking the laps around the track and hearing all the incredible stories of the different survivors speakers, I had this inkling that it was just something that I needed to be a bigger part of. And that same year actually I lost my grandfather to cancer.
Allie Raper (07:24):
And that was one of the first times where I was like, wow cancer really does have monumental effects that, you know, people don’t always talk about if there’s not an outlet to talk about. So that was kind of something that really inspired me to continue to be more involved. And then I was on our committee for the next couple of years. And then my final year at university, I was the head chair that led the event. And throughout those next three years, my other grandfather was also diagnosed. I had an aunt diagnosed and an uncle and a friend at university as well. So, you know, when it rains, it pours, they say, but it was definitely one of those moments where I felt like I was in the right spot at the right time and doing something that was really impacting the loved ones in my life that previously I hadn’t anticipated was going to affect me so close.
Allie Raper (08:16):
But I think that’s kind of with anything serious, you know, we all think it’s not affecting us right now. It’s not, it’s not going to, you know, we’re kind of in the clear until it happens to you. So cancer definitely has a close connection to my heart. And, and then coming out of university the gentlemen who was actually in my role previously, who worked with me as a student at McMaster kind of shoulder, tapped me upon graduation and said, Hey, Allie, you know, we’ve got some openings you should apply to work at the Canadian cancer society. And as a new grad, I’m, I’m sitting there thinking no way, I’m not qualified. I am not eligible like definitely. And a quick realization that, Nope, you, you are eligible. You are very well qualified to do this and take that jump and leap of faith and apply. And so I did, and that was just over three years ago as of last week. So it’s been three great years with the Canadian cancer society ever since.
Sam Demma (09:13):
What a story. Holy cow. Thanks for sharing.
Allie Raper (09:15):
Sam Demma (09:18):
So three years with the Canadian cancer society, how long running the relay program?
Allie Raper (09:24):
Yeah, so all three have been with relay on the relay for life youth team. However the difference has been I was working with high school programs up until this past June, and then since June, 2021, I’m now working with our national post-secondary program. So same concepts, just different audiences now, essentially, but the relay for life youth team for all three years.
Sam Demma (09:50):
Cool. And what is relate for people who have no idea what relay is? Maybe you can share a little bit about the impact.
Allie Raper (09:57):
Definitely. So relay is first and foremost, a fundraising event held through the Canadian cancer society. People might recognize the name from their communities from high schools, from universities and so forth. And the event is typically anywhere from six to 12 hours in a pre pandemic world. So we’ll explain a pre pandemic lens of relay first. So essentially what it is is it is an event where we come together to honor and celebrate the lives of those who’ve been affected by cancer. It’s centered around four different ceremonies. And what I love about it is that other than those four different ceremonies, every school has the ability to shape relay the way they best see fit for their school community. So the first ceremony that happens typically right at the beginning is what we call an opening ceremony. And this is where we have a cancer survivor in the community of the school or the community who comes and shares their story.
Allie Raper (10:59):
It could be a student, a staff, a parent and so forth who talks to everybody about how cancer’s impacted them shortly after that, we then go into what we call our survivor victory lap. And the idea was, this is throughout the six to 12 hours of your event. People are constantly walking the track and getting their laps in, but the survivor victory lap is the first lap of your event. So let’s imagine we are at a high school event and there’s 15 survivors. We get them yellow t-shirts to signify hope in the color of the daffodil and those 15 survivors do that first lap all by themselves while your whole school is on the sidelines, cheering them on. I can’t give it justice by just explaining it. I’m getting goosebumps again, explaining it, but it’s so powerful to see that happen. And just to see, you know, how much impact and support a school has given me survivors.
Allie Raper (11:55):
So that is the second part. Then later on in your event, probably the most signature feature of a relay is what we call the luminary ceremony. So people might otherwise know this as the white decorated paper bags, but everyone at your relay gets a luminary and they decorate on it, why they relay. So for example, mine, every year says I relay for both my grandfathers, my aunt and uncle, like I mentioned, and my friends. So that’s my personal luminary. And now picture later on lining a track with hundreds of decorated luminaries, with a little tea light in it, where later on you do a lap to a more slower song, and you’re reading the hundreds of reasons why your school is coming together and relaying it’s yeah, it’s very special and it’s, it’s incredible to really see that because no two stories are the same and, you know, we’re all connected by the same cause.
Allie Raper (12:49):
So that’s the third piece. And the last piece of the event is closing ceremonies. So what that typically looks like is a big thank you for coming to our event. And very exciting people announce what the school has raised in as their fundraising total, I’m going, it’s always great to see when schools exceed and reach their goals that they set. And then following that that’s the end of the event, but all throughout those six to 12 hours, the school can plan any form of entertainment they want to do any games, any kind of areas and so forth or different theme laps. So for example, staffer students games maybe, you know, like an arts corner maybe having a varsity sport, play a scrimmage or something like that, a talent show, the list goes on and on, and the students get to shape the whole event, which is really amazing.
Sam Demma (13:38):
That’s awesome. And how many events roughly happen per year if you keep like some stats on it?
Allie Raper (13:45):
Of course. So annually on average, you work with over 260 schools across Canada, and that we’re always trying to grow that number too. So we are working a lot more so in recent years to grow it nationally outside of Ontario. And that’s been really exciting to see other provinces and territories get really involved as well.
Sam Demma (14:03):
Awesome. And if a school is interested and wants to learn more like what would be the best way for them to do so?
Allie Raper (14:09):
So they can reach out to us via email qt firstname.lastname@example.org so, email@example.com or on our Instagram as well, which is just @youthrelay are the two easiest ways to get in touch with us.
Sam Demma (14:24):
Great. And, you know, you kind of brushed over the fact that COVID is here. So what are some of the challenges that relay has been faced with and the fundraising goals because of COVID and how are you guys striving to figure it out and still continue moving along?
Allie Raper (14:39):
Yeah. What a what a two plus years it’s been a, like, I don’t think any of us anticipated to be a miss landscape for this long, but here we are. So something I’ve been finding myself saying a lot and reflecting on has been, you know, COVID stopped and changed a lot of things, but it didn’t stop and change cancer. It didn’t stop and change leadership and it didn’t stop and change, you know, our means to be able to make a difference in an impact. Yeah. So it’s been really great to see students still rise to the occasion and just flip their mindset as to, you know, how can we still take the special parts of relay and incorporate them into a re-imagined event. So what our team did this year is we essentially took those four key parts of relay those four ceremonies and reflected on, you know, what makes relay really at its core.
Allie Raper (15:32):
How can we take those concepts and switch them into alternative methods? So this year we actually had four options for schools to choose from all across the country, depending on their restrictions. Of course, we had a restricted relay model, which was for areas who weren’t really impacted by lockdowns and didn’t have a ton of social distancing measures in place. But that was just a, yeah, it restricted relay in itself. Then we had some hybrid options as well for schools. So if they weren’t in cohorts, for example, maybe classes were taking time on their own, on their breaks to go outside and do some laps, but then you’re opening ceremonies, luminaries and so forth were all done via virtual videos that were sent out throughout the week. And then we also had a fully virtual option. So what we did in this one was we coached schools on having, you know, roughly an hour to two hour long virtual event, whether that was during school hours or after school hours, where the school’s hosted a broadcast and still had all the ceremonies and some entertainment, but just in a condensed virtual setting with the idea of going to walk in your own neighborhoods on your own time.
Allie Raper (16:42):
So it definitely was different, but something that was really cool this year, which definitely kind of inspired us, was we had a ton of new schools actually work with us this year. And it was interesting to see that because, you know, we were so nervous about asking schools to do something unknown that they’ve never done before, but schools were still so excited to take on something and seeing the resources and the options that we had outlined for them made it that much easier for them to put something into place. Yeah, so that was really, those are kind of the options.
Sam Demma (17:17):
Awesome. That’s amazing. And so for a school to get involved, do they have to pay a certain amount of money to get resources? Or how does it, what is it?
Allie Raper (17:27):
Yeah, absolutely not. So basically what it looks like is the program fully and relay in itself is student led and staff supported. And by that we mean, you know, we are giving the students and staff the tools to be successful, and we know that staff already has so much on their plates, especially in, you know, navigating to the landscape that we’re currently in, that we want students to really leverage that leadership and make relay what they want to make it. Because, you know, as a peer in high school, you’re going to be a lot more enticed to go to an event that your peers are planning as well, opposed to staff or myself planning, for example. So we actually provide schools with training resources and funding right off the bat as well. So if a school is hosting some sort of in-person or even a hybrid event in a typical year, we give schools a budget of 6% of their fundraising goal.
Allie Raper (18:24):
So it’s really nice to know that they don’t have to dip into school funds to kind of offset any event costs. And they don’t have to fundraise for the event themselves, but we want to invest in them because they’re investing in us and into the cause and into the program. So yeah, schools will set a fundraising goal and then we issue a 6% of that to them right off the bat. And then we also provide one of my favorite things actually is we provide a free leadership conference. So for high school level, we call it relay university where in a typical year, you know, we bring hundreds of people into conference centers all across the country. And they hear from survivors speakers, they network with other students and staff. They do breakouts. They go through mock ceremonies of relay and so much more, and they get a full complimentary conference day and last year to account for COVID.
Allie Raper (19:16):
We did our first ever national virtual relay university, which was really cool too. So, yeah. And then the other resource we provide to, to make things again, as easy as possible is we provide a full Google drive full of resources. So instead of having a student, you know, try to create a, to do list themselves, we’ve got a committee structure of 10 outlined or suggested roles for students to take on. They each come with a guidebook to keep them on track. They each come with resources as well. So let’s say I’m a student is a ceremonies captain for all of those ceremonies. I mentioned, we have scripts already outlined for them, and we have resources on, you know, how to have sensitive conversations and how to speak to people, living with cancer or sponsorship, for example, you know, we’ve got template letters and thank you’s that can go out to external vendors. So that way, again, students aren’t starting from scratch, but they have the resources to really then customize them and make them their own to be successful.
Sam Demma (20:15):
That’s awesome. And what keeps you motivated and inspired to continue doing this work?
Allie Raper (20:21):
I think it’s, you know, Sam, I think the easiest way to answer that is the students themselves. And when they come to me so excited to share an idea or to share a success that they had, that is why I love doing what I, what I do. You know, even the other day, I had a couple of conversations with students who did relay in high school, who have now gone on to the post-secondary level. And I was trying to see, you know, if their school, if they want to get involved through late at their school and whatnot, and they had a student text me and say, I wouldn’t miss out. I’ve already told all my friends relay was truly the highlight of my high school experience. And I want to get involved at my, at my new school. So it’s little things like that that you just kind of reflect back on.
Allie Raper (21:05):
And you’re like, you know, those conversations we had or those coaching sessions, when, you know, these students were in high school, they’ll stick with them. And the impact that they make are being able to reflect and look back and say, I ran an event that raised $80,000 at my high school. That’s not something that, you know, a lot of students can say, but for them to be able to put that on a resume and talk about that, it’s, it’s really incredible. And I think the other thing, as well as it’s rewarding, but it’s also a sensitive piece in the sense that seeing when students are able to grieve and process a loss through relay is also really special in the sense that, you know, if a school doesn’t do relay for life for having an outlet, some students, you know, maybe going through a loss in their family or in their life or undergoing a diagnosis of cancer themselves. But if they don’t have an outlet to share that with it can be really tough sometimes, but relay really unites everyone as to, you know, we’ve all been affected with, you know, one in two Canadians being affected by cancer. We truly have all been affected in our lifetimes. And when I’ve see those students kind of break out of their shell or share their personal vulnerable stories and, and be confident about that, that’s something that’s really, really special to me.
Sam Demma (22:20):
That’s awesome. This has been a phenomenal conversation, Allie, thank you so much for taking some time to chat about relay your own experience, growing up with it and what keeps you going and how schools can get involved. One more time, if anyone wants to reach out or get in touch with you, what would be the best way for them to do so?
Allie Raper (22:36):
Yeah, I’m, I’m looking forward to hopefully getting some people to reach out. So this is great. So email firstname.lastname@example.org, that’s email@example.com and Instagram @youthrelay. So @youthrelay on Instagram and either one we will reach out to you and get back to you as soon as possible. And we hope to hear from many of you.
Sam Demma (22:58):
Awesome. Thanks so much, Allie, keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.
Allie Raper (23:01):
Awesome. Thanks so much, Sam.
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