A few years ago, Christi Johnson, was approached with the idea of taking over Conway Celebrity Waiter, a popular annual fundraiser benefiting the American Cancer Society.
Her yes was almost immediate. Christi had previously lost her grandmother and uncle to cancer, and had just discovered that her sister-in-law had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Cancer affects everyone,” she said. “It has affected me personally. It affects everyone on our committee. It affects people in our community. It was just something that I knew was just meant for me to do.”
Christi took off running with the event, and year after year has worked to keep it fresh and make it grow, adding smaller pre-events, evolving the themes, and in 2016, raised about $38,000 for the American Cancer Society.
Much of the money goes to research and find a cure, but some of it stays local, to provide transportation, wigs, housing during treatment, and other things Conway’s cancer patients may need.
Esther McClellan, U.S. Pizza owner who started Conway Celebrity Waiter, lost her mother-in-law to pancreatic cancer when her son was six months old. When she passed the reigns on to Christi, she knew Christi’s passion and drive would make a big difference in the fight against a terrible disease.
“Cancer sucks,” said McClellan. “Even to beat cancer you are poisoning yourself usually, and you’re fighting and you’re sick and you’re miserable. (But) Christi has been able to give big.”
Each person involved in the fundraiser, now known as Lip Sync for Life, has been affected in some way by the disease. And they are able to take that suffering and channel it into something positive. The fundraiser brings the Conway community together each year, offering a fun, light-hearted event for those who are fighting, those who are celebrating remission, and those who are passionate about helping their neighbors.
“(Cancer) is something very personal, and to have fun at an event and to use that as a catalyst to doing good is such a great way to tie in a specific opportunity and need with an opportunity to raise money,” said J.R. Runyon, the popular radio personality who handles publicity for the event. “Somebody has to be at the front that wakes up in the morning and says, ‘We’re going to get this done. And Christi has been that person from the word go.”
With each minute detail that goes into the year-long planning, burnout is a risk, but Christi’s passion and tenacity continues to be fueled by the faces of everyone affected.
“When it’s all said and done and I have time to sit down and breathe I (know) I can’t give this up. “To see (patients) there and happy, knowing that we’re fighting for them makes a big difference.”
Christi Johnson and the other 2017 Arkansas Community Service Award winners will be honored on June 2.