Campus THON dancers prepare for three days of fun, music and fundraising

“...I think you people have proven something to the world, that a half a million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music...” 
-- Max Yasgur, dairy farmer, 1969
Day Three, Woodstock Music and Arts Fair

For the past month, Penn State New Kensington students Aric Fellers, Leigh Hastings, Courtney Rockwell and Bill Staniszewski have fine-tuned their bodies, polished their dancing skills and honed their mental faculties in preparation for THON. Like Woodstock almost 45 years ago, they are preparing for the three days of fun and music. Unlike Woodstock, the event will raise millions of dollars for pediatric cancer research.

The campus quartet is packed and ready for their trip this weekend, Friday to Sunday, Feb. 15 to 17, to Penn State University Park, for the 41st edition of the annual Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon (affectionately known as THON), a University-wide event whose goal is to defeat pediatric cancer in the world.

“I got involved in THON because I love to make a difference in someone’s life,” said Courtney Rockwell, a sophomore kinesiology major from New Kensington. “While at THON weekend, you are letting the children forget that they are fighting cancer, and they are enjoying their time as a child.”

The New Kensington dancers will join more than 700 Penn State students from all the campuses at the Bryce Jordan Center during the 46-hour, no sitting, no sleeping marathon. All monies raised through the dance marathon directly benefit the Four Diamonds Fund at the Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital.

“I have been blessed with good health and a good family in life, so I believe I should give back to others, and one way of doing so is philanthropy,” said Hastings, a sophomore meteorology major and graduate of Greensburg-Salem High School. “Therefore, joining THON was an easy and quick decision for me to make.”

According to Kelsie Nury, THON committee chairwoman for the New Kensington campus, the number of dancers going to University Park from each campus is based on the amount of money raised by the campus the previous year. Last year, New Kensington students raised $50,437, the second best total in campus history. The $52,390 raised in 2010 is the New Kensington standard.

The four dancers were chosen by a seven-member interview committee comprised of students, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni. The selections were based on participation in campus THON activities -- canning, meetings and raising at least $1,000 apiece.

“My brother Brett participated in THON ahead of me, and I remember him telling my parents how it changed his life forever,” said Fellers, a junior who will transfer to University Park in the fall to complete his studies in energy, business and finance.

For the past month, the four hoofers have planned for the rigors of long-term dancing. By exercising, watching calories and eliminating caffeinated drinks, they are ready for the challenge. Staniszewski had a novel and fun approach for getting himself in top shape.
“I go skiing as often as possible,” said Staniszewski, a sophomore mechanical engineering technology major who will earn an associate degree in May.

The campus reps won’t be left to their own devices once they hit the dance floor. The University Park THON committee assigns each dancer a moraler who can attend to their needs during the marathon. Be it food, drink or inspiration, the moraler's responsibility is to help the dancers get through the event.

In addition, the campus is supporting the dancers with about 50 students and friends in the stands who will provide an upbeat atmosphere throughout the marathon. Another group of campus students will lend support by making a day trip by bus on Saturday to the Jordan Center. Nury, who was a campus dancer last year, is the “motivator in chief” for the campus. She offers a good mental tip for the participants.

“When you are down on the floor and feeling tired and sore, just look around and remember you have thousands of other Penn State students encouraging you,” said Nury, a sophomore from Lower Burrell.

In addition to Penn State students, alumni and friends from around the world will join in the celebration via Dance With Us, a fun and interactive call to action for people who are not at the University Park campus and want to get involved in the THON Weekend dance festivities. Midway through the event, at 6:45 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday, Feb. 16, THON is inviting everyone, everywhere to take part in Dance With Us, the first global coordinated line dance for charity, to raise awareness of childhood cancer. The program provides the opportunity for participants, no matter their location, to dance along with the THON dancers and experience the spirit, energy and atmosphere of THON while supporting the fight against pediatric cancer. A 30-second instructional line dance video, offering a tutorial for participants to learn the lyrics and moves, is posted on THON’s official Facebook page,!/events/394954170599517/.

“We anticipate this program to inspire line dances and viewing parties for THON Weekend across the globe,” said Will Martin, overall chairperson for THON. “This will allow Penn State fans and pediatric cancer fighters to feel like they are in the Bryce Jordan Center from any location.”

The final totals for New Kensington and all the other Penn State units will be announced at the conclusion of the marathon. Since 1977, THON has raised $89 million for the charity. In the past three years, the New Kensington THON committee has collected more than $122,000 to support pediatric cancer patients, families and researchers. Since 2002, the total is $216,000. Approximately 100 new families receive support each year.

Nury set New Kensington's goal at $55,000, the most ambitious total in campus history. Since last semester, campus students have been fundraising in earnest, sponsoring a variety of activities, including a spaghetti dinner, zumba night and a pie throwing contest, for what is believed to be the largest student-run philanthropy in the world.

Canning stands out as the most fun and the most lucrative fundraising vehicle for Nury’s cadre of volunteers. Rain or shine, the students stood outside area businesses, explaining the THON mission and collecting money from patrons. The cheerful demeanors of the volunteers provided the impetus for patrons to connect with their philanthropic inner being.

“Canning weekends are my favorite because you meet people who know about THON,” said Rockwell, a Valley High School graduate and a member of numerous campus organization and committees. “You get to listen to their stories while you share your stories. Canning weekends are what got me pumped up for THON.”

The New Kensington dancers will had a grand send-off Feb. 12, with a campus-wide "pot-luck" dinner. The terpsichoreans need to “carbo-load,” and students, faculty and staff were encouraged to bring an assortment of pastas and other high-energy foods to help the foursome boogie all weekend.

“I wanted to be involved in a charitable organization that supported both cancer research, and dealing with child loss and illness,” said Staniszewski, a graduate of St. Joseph High School. “My grandfather died of cancer, and my mother has had several miscarriages.”

Donations can be made by visiting To credit the New Kensington campus, donors should go to “Gift and Dancer Support,” click the button “Click to support the THON Organization or Dancer of your choice” and designate New Kensington, which is listed under General Organizations.

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Last Updated March 28, 2013