York's THON dancers look forward to dancing for the kids

Kaylee Hess, 20, and Mark Czaus, 19, are preparing for an exciting and exhausting weekend, Feb. 21-23; they won’t be sitting down or sleeping for 46 hours. Hess and Czaus have the honor of representing Penn State York at the annual Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, fondly known as THON, to raise money for children and their families battling pediatric cancer. The event, at the Bryce Jordan Center on Penn State's University Park campus, is held each year to raise money for the Four Diamonds Fund at the Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital in Hershey, Pa. THON begins at 6 p.m. on Friday and continues through 4 p.m. on Sunday. This year’s theme is “Redefine the Possibilities!”

The two dancers from the York campus were selected based on a variety of criteria, including the number of spirit points earned since last September through participation in fundraising activities for THON and the battle against pediatric cancer. THON is the largest student-run philanthropy and the weekend dance marathon is the culmination of a yearlong fundraising effort.

In addition to raising money, THON enables campus students to raise spirits by sponsoring local families dealing with cancer. Members of York’s THON Committee have provided encouragement to the families through visits, parties, cards and plenty of emotional support. The York campus sponsors Autumn Foller, 10, who is in treatment for leukemia and Ava Hagens, 6, who battled acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and is in remission.

Fundraising efforts for York’s dancers, and members of the campus THON committee have included canning weekends (soliciting donations) at several locations in and around the York area, a poker tournament, a community day at a local yogurt business, and a blood drive with the American Red Cross. Students involved in THON met weekly throughout the year and will make the trip to University Park to cheer on York’s dancers and all those who are dancing For The Kids (FTK) during the 46-hour event.

Emily Muller, a junior at Penn State York majoring in human development and family studies, and Maura Beaver, a sophomore majoring in communication arts and sciences, are York’s THON co-chairs and have led the group throughout the year. 

York’s dancers have been watching their diets, cutting caffeine, getting more sleep, and exercising to prepare for the 46-hour event.

Hess, a sophomore at York majoring in human development and family studies, first became familiar with THON when she was in middle school. She heard her parents discussing the event and then became involved in mini-THONS and events in the Hempfield School District in Lancaster County. Hess is a 2011 graduate of Hempfield High School and makes her home Lancaster. She has attended THON three times and has been active at Penn State York since she was a freshman.

The biggest concern for Hess is that she might not be able to stand for 46 hours but she believes that through the inspiration of her mom and everyone there, she will keep going until the end.

“My mother, Michelle Hess, is the clinical nurse at Penn State Hershey’s Children’s Hospital Hematology/Oncology Unit and she has given me an exceeding amount of inspiration and guidance throughout the years I have been involved in THON,” said Hess. “I can truly say that she, along with the Four Diamonds children and families, will give me the much needed courage, wisdom, honesty, and strength to succeed during THON weekend.”

Since her mother took the job at Hershey six years ago, Hess is reminded daily of the good things that happen because of the money raised through THON. She also has a deep understanding of the need to find a cure for cancer. Dancing at THON is her way to show support for cancer patients and celebrate life.

A 2011 graduate of Central York High School, Czaus too became involved in THON when he was in high school and helped with mini-THON events. His inspirations are the children who are battling cancer.

“These children have their whole lives ahead of them and having cancer is the last thing that they should be worrying about. I want to take on their pain during THON and have them forget that they have cancer, even if it’s for a little bit,” said Czaus. “Raising money and dancing is the least I can do for these kids to help find a cure.”

Czaus and Hess are kindred spirits in their passion for dancing for the kids and each have spent time with York’s THON families and have given of their time and energy.  While they both worry about staying on their feet during THON, they are thankful for the privilege.

THON 2013 raised more than $12.3 million and broke its own record of more than $10.7 million, bringing the total raised in the history of the event to more than $101 million for the Four Diamonds Fund at The Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital since 1973.  Penn State York also broke its own record last year by raising more than $22,000, the largest amount the York campus has ever raised for THON.

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. 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.

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 significant role in creating a community unified in support, compassion, and understanding. This unity inspires students to fundraise throughout the year and lets families of the Four Diamonds Fund know 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.

Anyone interested in supporting the dancers from Penn State York can still donate. Donate online at http://giveto.psu.edu/THON-York. Click on “Donate Now.” Donations made to the York THON group will be credited to the campus and then added to the final total at University Park. Donations online will be counted for York until midnight Saturday, Feb. 22; those made after that time will go to the THON total.

Checks in support of THON should be made payable to: Penn State Dance Marathon or THON, and sent to Penn State York, 1031 Edgecomb Ave., York, PA  17403. Be sure to note York, Org. 170 in the memo line of the check.

Last Updated February 12, 2014