New Kensington dances its way to $24,000 for THON

The THON committee at Penn State New Kensington, headed by sophomore Melissa Gabrielli, raised $24,000 for the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon (THON) that benefits the Four Diamonds Fund and the fight against pediatric cancer. The total is the fourth best in campus history.

“The student supporters, dancers and moralers did a great job,” said Lauren Blum, assistant to the director of student affairs and adviser to the THON committee. “Our dancers were great representatives of Penn State New Kensington, and we could not have asked for a better, more dedicated student group to cheer those dancers on throughout the weekend.”

The three New Kensington campus student dancers -- Mike Cavazza of Indiana, Pa.; Mitch Hastings of Delmont, Pa.; and Gabrielli of Apollo -- joined more than 700 dancers from across the University and stayed on their feet for the entire 46-hour event, Feb. 21 to 23, in the Bryce Jordan Center at Penn State University Park. Despite the aches and pains, the trio agreed that it was one of the best experiences of their lives.

“My feet hurt, and I was tired,” said Gabrielli, a sophomore marketing and management major. “But you look at those kids and you realize that they are going through something way worse. Then suddenly all the pain that you are feeling goes away.”

“Staying up for 46 hours is definitely a challenge and wears on you at times,” said Hastings, a freshman physics major. “But when you see the kids, you remember why you are doing it, and it is worth it.”

“Most people think THON is just a physical challenge, but honestly, it was more of a mental challenge than anything,” said Cavazza, a sophomore petroleum and natural gas engineering major. “It is a mind game that you play, and if your support system keeps you in good spirits, it makes the time fly by.”

The Four Diamonds Fund serves a dual role -- supporting families financially during treatment and funding cancer research. The children and families joined the dancers on the floor, playing games and pulling pranks.

For the New Kensington dancers, getting involved first-hand with the beneficiaries of their labor of love made their THON experience even more memorable.

“It was a lot of fun meeting the THON kids,” said Gabrielli, who attended Apollo-Ridge High School. “One little girl started throwing a beach ball around with us. Throughout the night we would get into water gun fights with the kids, and that was probably the best part. They would always sneak attack you.”

“The THON kids are just normal kids that love to play and have fun,” said Hastings, a product of Greensurg-Salem High School. “Playing games with them was one of the best parts of the weekend.”

“To finally see the kids running around playing with all of us gave us so much motivation to just keep dancing,” said Cavazza, a graduate of Merion Center Area High School.

The New Kensington dancers did not go at it alone. The University Park THON committee assigned each dancer a moraler who attended 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, a New Kensington posse was on the floor and in the stands, ready to cheer on the campus hoofers and provide moral support. Twenty-four students, family, faculty, staff, alumni and friends made the 130-mile journey to State College. Some were there for the three days; others made a one-day bus trip, courtesy of the Student Affairs office. They wore red and green matching T-shirts and held up signs spelling out P-S-N-K-Heart-Y-O-U.

“What helped me the most was having my friends from the campus come down to visit me on the floor,” said Hastings, whose sister, Leigh, was a campus dancer a year ago. “It was a real energy boost. I was physically and mentally drained, but when I saw my friends approaching with smiles on their faces, I was suddenly re-energized and ready to finish strong for the kids.”

“Looking up in the stands and seeing the New Kensington crowd waving to us and holding up signs for us definitely made me feel a lot better,” said Gabrielli, a work-study student in the Admissions office. “I would also get text messages throughout the weekend from the New Kensington people in the stands. Some of the people that were in the stands are people that I don't talk to everyday, but they all came together and cheered for us, and that meant a lot.”

Gabrielli is the second campus THON committee chair to dance in the same year of the chairmanship. Alumnus Rich Moser was the first in 2003. Two of the past four previous chairs danced as committee members. Last year, Kelsie Nury served as chair after dancing the previous year. Her committee raised $43,000, the third-most in campus history. Nury is currently a junior in the Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Management program at University Park. Deanna Mazur, a 2011 graduate from the campus’ business administration program, took an opposite tack of Nury and chaired the THON committee for two years before turning to dancing. As a dancer, she helped set the campus record of $52,000 in 2011. Kelly Sieja, who earned a bachelor’s degree in applied psychology in 2011, chaired the historic record-setting event. The second-best total, $50,000, was secured a year later under the direction of Lauren Richards, an alumna of the campus’ Information Sciences and Technology program.

In the past for years, the New Kensington THON committee has collected nearly $170,000, more than 63 percent of the total from the past 15 years combined. Since 2002, campus students have raised $271,000.

Overall, THON set a new record, raising $13,343,517 for the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital, surpassing last year's record $12.37 million. Researchers at the hospital are working to find better treatments and, ultimately, cures for forms of cancer that afflict children. Approximately 100 new families receive support each year.

First held in 1973, THON has partnered with the Four Diamonds Fund since 1977 and in that time has raised nearly $115 million FTK -- "For The Kids." More than 15,000 students participated in making THON 2014 happen, including the thousands of students who helped them raise funds throughout the year, and thousands more who volunteered during THON weekend to boost dancers' morale, kept them fed and entertained, made sure they stayed safe and shared the THON experience around the world via streaming video.

“THON is an eye-opening experience that I believe everyone should be able to see,” said Hastings, who aspires to earn a doctoral degree in nuclear physics. “It is unfair that these kids have to go through something so horrible while some people don't take advantage of the lives and opportunities they have. We all try our hardest to give the kids a chance to have the life they want and experience everything any other kid would."

“Knowing that during THON weekend I made a difference for the life of a child is probably one of the most amazing feelings that I have ever felt in my life,” Gabrielli said.

Donations continue to be accepted online at 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.

For more on campus THON, contact Lauren Blum, student life coordinator, 724-334-6063 or

For campus THON history and list of chairs and dancers, visit

For more on THON, visit

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Last Updated March 05, 2014