York THON dancers are ready to put on their dancin' shoes for the kids

February 12, 2016

YORK, Pa. — Exercising, eating healthy foods, watching sugar intake, getting plenty of sleep, and thinking positive are just a few of the things Julia Byerly, 18, and Alyssa Zelwalk, 19, are doing to prepare for The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, affectionately known as THON. The two young women will be on their feet for 46 hours — no-sitting, no-sleeping — to raise funds to support innovative and sustainable pediatric cancer research at Penn State Hershey.

Since pairing in 1977, THON has raised more than $127 million for the Four Diamonds Fund, its sole beneficiary. The Four Diamonds fills in the funding gaps that insurance leaves for the patients it serves, enabling families to focus on caring for their children. This year’s event begins at 6 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 19, at the Bryce Jordan Center at Penn State's University Park campus and ends 46 hours later, on Sunday, Feb. 21 at 4 p.m.  

The two dancers from the York campus were selected to represent Penn State York Benefitting THON 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 in the world, and the weekend dance marathon is the culmination of a yearlong fundraising effort. Byerly and Zelwalk, along with hundreds of other dancers, won’t be sitting or sleeping for the entire weekend. This year’s THON theme is “Believe Beyond Boundaries.”

Fundraising efforts for the campus THON committee included one canning weekend (soliciting donations) at several locations in and around the York area, helping with a poker tournament, sponsoring a blood drive with the American Red Cross, a Fall Fest, a holiday party, and Cabaret for a Cure, a talent and variety show. Jahlicia Cruz, a senior at Penn State York majoring in human development and family studies, and Giovanni Senno, a sophomore majoring in business, have led the group throughout the year with the help of other student captains, and members interested in finding a cure for pediatric cancer.

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, 12, who was diagnosed with leukemia in 2012 and is now in remission, and Ava Hagens, 8, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in 2009 and is also in remission.

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.  

Both young women, who will be dancing for the York campus, are excited about spending time with the kids at THON and with York’s THON family and members of the campus organization.

Byerly, a freshman at Penn State York who is undecided on her major, learned about THON in her junior year of high school when a friend attended THON and told her about students dancing for 46 hours to help kids with cancer. The 2015 graduate of Dallastown High School became involved in the mini-THON there last year and served on the hospitality committee. She decided to continue her involvement with THON when she began her college career at the York campus and served as the donor and alumni relations captain.

“I want to be able to stand with all the kids and families that have been affected by cancer and show them I am here to support them,” said Byerly. “I feel that dancing for the kids, who have gone through so much, is a visible way to show that there are so many people who are with them every step of the way.”

It was a dream come true for Byerly to be selected as a dancer, and like her partner, she is looking forward to being around all the kids at THON, having fun with them, and dressing up in funny and colorful costumes. Her biggest concern about THON is staying positive throughout the whole weekend, despite being tired.

“We’re dancing for the kids who have gone through so much — that’s the main purpose,” said Byerly.

Zelwalk, a sophomore at the York campus majoring in media studies, has been a part of Penn State York Benefitting THON since her freshman year. She was active in canning and led numerous fundraising events. She attended THON last year and was thrilled to be a part of the event. The 2014 graduate of West York Area High School considers it a privilege to be a dancer. In high school she heard about THON when a mini-THON was held there and she heard people speak about the Four Diamonds Fund and THON.

“I had seen people on the street canning, but it wasn’t until I heard Four Diamond families speak that I truly understood why THON existed,” Zelwalk said. “I want to dance to make a difference,” she said. “I believe that no child, nor their family, should suffer through pediatric cancer, and I cannot wait for the day we dance in celebration of the cure.”

Zelwalk’s concern about the 46-hour weekend is just how tired she will be in class on Monday, Feb. 22, after completing the event.

In addition to the support of the York THON organization, both young women will have family members encouraging them.

Anyone interested in supporting the dancers from Penn State York can donate online at http://giveto.psu.edu/THON-York. Please 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. Checks in support of THON must reach the campus by Feb. 18 and should be made payable to: Penn State Dance Marathon or THON, and sent to Penn State York, 1031 Edgecomb Ave., York, PA 17403. Please be sure to note "York, Org. 170" in the memo line of the check.

THON is the world’s largest student-run philanthropy, engaging more than 15,000 students in the fight against childhood cancer. THON’s yearlong fundraising and awareness campaign culminates in a 46-hour no-sitting, no-sleeping dance marathon every February. Since 1977, THON has donated more than $127 million to Four Diamonds at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, funding comprehensive care and critical research.

  • 2016 York THON Dancers1

    Getting a little outdoor exercise and having fun, Julia Byerly, left, and Alyssa Zelwalk, right, have been eating healthy foods, getting plenty of sleep, and cutting their sugar intake, as part of their preparation for being on their feet for 46 hours at THON. 

    IMAGE: Barbara Dennis

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated February 12, 2016