Let’s look at the largest student-run philanthropy in the world. Outstanding both by revenue and participation, the Penn State Dance Marathon (THON) strives to find a cure for childhood cancer. Student volunteers raise money to cover medical expenses of 4,000 children diagnosed with cancer while raising awareness around the world. Their efforts seek to enhance the lives of families battling childhood cancer both financially and emotionally with the hope of eventually finding a cure.
Over 16,500 student volunteers make this dance marathon possible.
No sitting, no sleeping, just dancing.
Every February, Penn State students dance for 46 hours straight, all For The Kids. Student volunteers dedicate 5,000,000 hours annually to not only raising money but also spreading awareness and creating an incredible dance marathon. Students control everything from the technology, merchandising, finances and more. “There are many moving parts that contribute to our success each year, but ultimately it is the passion of our volunteers and the stories of our families that allow us to have such an impact in the fight against childhood cancer. There are 16 committees ranging from Hospitality to Finance to Entertainment, as well as many organizations who assist in our fundraising efforts and provide support to our families,” Penn State senior Maddy Hughes said. THON shows how Penn State students can collaborate for a greater good with even greater success.
Since 1977, THON has raised over $157 million dollars for their sole beneficiary, Four Diamonds at Penn State Children’s Hospital. The funds raised by THON help cover treatment costs for over 4,000 children but also funds critical research to ultimately find a cure for childhood cancer.
All in all, THON strives to help children affected by childhood cancer around the world. Because of the donations raised, the Penn State Children’s Hospital has been recognized in the top 50 locations to treat childhood cancer in the country.
It’s no joke getting involved in THON either. Landing a top position working with THON might as well be an interview for Weiden & Kennedy. The largest student-run philanthropy requires serious dedication; you basically apply for a full-time job, no salary of course. Who leads this organization? I wanted to know more. What makes people so passionate about THON? After interviewing some of the top executive members running THON, we can begin to understand the intricate roles needed to make this marathon a raving success.
Why do they do it?
Senior Kelly McCready is the Executive Director for THON 2019. While taking on all her student responsibilities, she dedicates almost 40 hours per week towards THON, all without commission. Why does she do this? “I commit countless hours to this cause because every person deserves a childhood and to grow up and experience life’s moments. Every day, kids and families are being affected by this disease, and we cannot stop until we are dancing in celebration,” McCready said. THON gives her a sense of hope and allows her to feel a part of a community that feels like home.
Lizzy DeMarshall, the Family Relations Director for THON 2019, commits so many hours because it makes her feel like she has a purpose. “Through a sense of being able to be a part of something bigger than myself. In a time when society can bombard you with the negativity in the world, ” DeMarshall said. To her, THON is a shining light of hope.
The Public Relations Director Maddy Hughes handles the external reputation of THON. “I can think of no better way to spend my year than volunteering for THON. I feel a purpose in the work I do for THON and am privileged to be in this position,” Hughes said. Each hour allows her to feel more and more inspired by the community and motivates her to do all she can to help in the fight against childhood cancer.
I began to get a thorough understanding of how THON makes people feel. The sense of hope and accomplishment they receive from participating in the largest student-run philanthropy in the world is beyond compare. I asked them more about why they do what they do, all money aside.
What if students from THON only raised one dollar?
“The relationships formed through our efforts create invaluable moments that allow a child and family to not feel alone during their fight,” McCready said. The emotional support they provide leaves a lasting impression on Four Diamonds families.
“While the financial support that THON provides families through Four Diamonds is incredible, the support that THON provides through events, experiences, care, love, and hope, is what really changes families’ lives,” Family Relations Director Lizzy DeMarshall said.
Within these 5,000,000 hours dedicated to THON each year, how does one even have free time?
The Executive Committee commits tens of hours per week to the worldwide cause, but what do these students do when they aren’t THONing (if ever)? How do they balance work/life/school?
“Focusing on myself is a large priority for me because I cannot be an effective leader if I personally am not my best self. This experience is a big learning opportunity on how to balance this, and it requires not feeling guilty when putting myself first at times,” McCready said. She still finds time to watch her favorite show, go grocery shopping, and spend time with family and friends.
“When I am not doing THON or schoolwork, I love to run, to be outdoors and hike, to read, and most of all, to spend time with my friends, family, and loved ones,” DeMarshall said.
“Being a leader in THON means that we are setting an example for all our volunteers, and on the Executive Committee we remind each other daily to take time for ourselves. Personally, I love to spend my free time talking to my family on the phone, watching a movie and eating ice cream, spending some time outside or participating in my other extra-curricular activities here at Penn State,” Hughes said. In order to be the most effective team, it is essential that they are always at their best.
THON represents a non-profit company at its finest. THON wouldn’t happen without the total dedication and passion of these driven individuals. The excitement and thrill are passed along to each upcoming class at Penn State. Surely if you ask a new student what excites them about Penn State the most, many times they respond with THON. Not only do we need to recognize the battle of childhood cancer, but more importantly the students that make it a success and the means by which they achieve that success: the millions of hours spent planning, canvassing, fundraising and more. The secluded effort provided to this world-renowned philanthropy all relates back to the students. Without them, THON wouldn’t thrive.