Eating their vegetables, working out, getting sleep, and cutting down on caffeine and sugar are just a few things Penn State York students Kaitlyn Dunbar, 19, and Joe Weaver, 18, are doing as they get ready to head to University Park to represent the campus in the 40th annual Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon (THON), “Brighten Every Journey,” set for Feb. 17 – 19 at the Bryce Jordan Center (BJC). THON begins at 6 p.m. on Friday and ends at 4 p.m. on Sunday.
The two dancers were chosen to represent Penn State York based on a variety of criteria including spirit points they earned since September by doing a variety of activities to raise funds for THON. THON, as the dance marathon is affectionately known, is the largest student-run philanthropy in the country and its goal is to raise money to help fight pediatric cancer.
In addition to raising money, through THON, the campus sponsors the Hagens family. Ava Hagens, a 4-year-old from York, Pa., was diagnosed on July 24, 2009, with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). Since that time she has undergone a variety of treatments and recently completed her chemotherapy and is in remission. This is her third trip to THON along with her parents Jessica and Greg.
Members of York’s THON Committee have provided lots of encouragement for Ava with visits, cards, toys, and plenty of emotional support. The group had a special birthday on campus for Ava in the fall when she turned age 4.
For York’s dancers, and members of the campus’ THON committee, the year has included a variety of fundraising efforts from taking part in canning weekends (soliciting donations) at several locations in and around the York area, a community night at a local restuarant, and several pasta dinners. Under the direction of York THON co-chairs Alana Lentz, 21, of Columbia, Pa., and Kara Smith, 21, of York, Pa., the group has been busy raising money, bonding, and preparing for THON weekend. Lentz and Smith have attended meetings at University Park to catch up on all the THON details, requirements, and expectations and then have shared that information in weekly meetings with the campus’ THON committee throughout the year.
Both Lentz and Smith have dedicated a tremendous amount of time to THON and have been involved since 2009. Both women are looking forward to THON weekend and spending time with the Hagens family, the dancers, and all those gathered to make a difference for children battling pediatric cancer.
THON, a year-round fundraising event, is the largest single donor to the Four Diamonds Fund, at the Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital in Hershey, Pa. The year culminates in a no sitting, no sleeping, two-day dance marathon. Since 1973, the students of THON have raised more than $78 million and have helped thousands of children and families fight pediatric cancer. Last year, the event raised more than $9.59 million and broke its own record. The mission of THON is to conquer pediatric cancer by providing outstanding emotional and financial support to the children, families, researchers, and staff of the Four Diamonds Fund.
Dunbar, of York, Pa., is majoring in biology and is a 2010 graduate of Central York High School. She has wanted to be a dancer at THON ever since the first time she saw canners on the street corners of York seeking donations. Dunbar has been involved with THON for the past two years. She was in charge of finding places for students to can this year and used her previous experience to try and locate safe places for students to seek donations.
“I have always wanted to dance at THON and thought it would be the coolest thing to stay awake for 46 hours,” said Dunbar. “Those 46 hours are showing the kids that there is always hope.”
Dunbar’s biggest fear about THON is being able to mentally cope with the lack of sleep for 46 hours. She’s not concerned about being on her feet for that long because there are plenty of things to focus on during the weekend.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing the kids and families during THON weekend and knowing that what I’m doing is helping them cope with what is happening in their lives,” she said.
Weaver, of York, Pa., is majoring in physics and is a 2011 graduate of West York Area High School. He is excited to show his THON spirit and experience all the hard work of everyone coming together. He is also very thankful that as a first-year student he is able to dance.
“Most importantly, I want to help make a difference,” said Weaver. “Dancing at THON, helping the Four Diamonds Fund and kids with cancer, is one of the best ways to make a difference in the world.”
Weaver’s biggest concern is being able on dance for 46 hours which he calls “insanely hard.” Difficult or not, Weaver is quick to note that he is looking forward to seeing how much money is raised this year and watching how happy everyone is at the event. He has been involved in THON since last spring and can’t wait to see all the hard work pay off.
During THON weekend, more than 700 dancers and thousands of supporters come together at University Park in the hopes of one day finding a cure for pediatric cancer. Whether standing for 46 hours as a dancer, entertaining the crowd, taking care of the facility, or even sitting in the stands, every person at THON plays a small part in creating an amazing atmosphere of love, compassion, and understanding. This atmosphere inspires the students to fund raise throughout the year and tells the families of the Four Diamonds Fund that they have the care and support they need. This collective effort, involving more than 15,000 students, has become one of Penn State's greatest and most unifying traditions.
There’s still time to donate. The best way to be sure your donation is counted in time is to visit the campus or donate online at www.thon.org. Be sure to use the drop-down box and designate your donation for York and your donation will count toward the campus total.
Penn State York broke its own record last year by raising $17,160.71, the largest amount the campus has ever raised for THON and made it to the top 10 in fundraisers among the Penn State campuses. The highest total to date for York had been $13,485, raised in 2009.
Anyone interested in supporting the dancers from Penn State York can send checks made payable to:
Penn State York THON
c/o York Student Government Association
Penn State York
1031 Edgecomb Ave.
York, PA 17403
Be sure to note York, Org. 170 in the memo line of the check. Checks sent to the local campus as well as online donations will be credited to the local dancers and then added to the final total at University Park.