'The song remains the same': THON remains focused on mission during pandemic

February 16, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Katie Solomon, executive director of Penn State THON, knows that THON Weekend looks a little different this year.

Instead of a 46-hour dance marathon inside the Bryce Jordan Center, this year’s virtual THON Weekend will be a 46-hour livestream with dancers participating remotely from their own homes. But what hasn’t changed, Solomon said, is everything else.

As the world’s largest student-run philanthropy, each year THON raises millions of dollars for Four Diamonds to fund pediatric cancer research and support children and families fighting childhood cancer. And that remains the same.

THON director Katie Solomon

“We are funding research every day. We support Four Diamonds families all year round,” said Katie Solomon, THON director. “THON is not just one particular weekend — THON is the sense of hope we help provide children and families fighting childhood cancer. It’s everything we do.” 

IMAGE: Patrick Mansell

“Yes, THON Weekend looks different this year, but our mission has not changed,” said Solomon, a fifth-year student studying criminology and sociology. “We are still dancing for the kids. We are still supporting families and funding research. We are still together, even if we’re remote.”

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic necessitating social and physical distancing for public health and safety, Solomon said that THON’s executive committee knew the traditional THON Weekend event inside the Bryce Jordan Center would not be feasible this year.

More than anything else, Solomon said that safeguarding the health and well-being of all members of the Penn State and THON communities, including Four Diamonds children and their families, was their number one priority.

“We realized that we had a decision to make: either we could call it quits, or we could figure out how to make it work,” Solomon said. “And when we thought about our mission, when we thought about what we do and why we do it, we knew we would make it work.”

Samantha Koon, THON public relations director and a fifth-year student studying education theory and policy, said planning this year’s THON Weekend has been challenging, but these challenges have also presented new opportunities for THON. The improved livestream experience is something that will continue to enrich THON Weekend moving forward, and the virtual format means that community members across the globe can participate as dancers in THON this year.

“The difficulties we faced ultimately proved to be opportunities to do better for the organization and our mission,” Koon said. “I’m really excited that this year we’re able to bring the magic of THON to Penn Staters all over the world.”

Addison Albert, a senior studying broadcast journalism who will be dancing at THON this year, agreed that shifting to a remote format for this year’s big event has been an important opportunity to “refocus on our shared mission.” For her, everything THON does comes back to the Four Diamonds families and the children fighting pediatric cancer. 

THON dancers Addison Albert, Jasmine Forsberg and Andy Mader dance at a safe distance from each other while wearing masks.

THON dancers Addison Albert, Jasmine Forsberg and Andy Mader each have their own reasons for dancing, but they all agree that it's for the kids. “I came to Penn State as a student to follow my dream, and I believe everyone deserves the opportunity to follow their dreams,” Forsberg said. “That’s what THON does — it gives these kids that chance to follow their dreams.” 

IMAGE: Patrick Mansell

This year, Albert said she’s dancing for Four Diamonds children Lexi and Kirra — something that carries extra importance for her this weekend. “Kirra told me that when she grew up, she wanted to dance at THON too,” Albert said. “She passed away, so I made it my mission to dance for her. This weekend, I’ll be wearing her name.”

Jasmine Forsberg, a fellow THON dancer and senior studying musical theater, said that, regardless of the format, she is excited to dance in THON this year because of what the organization represents for the Four Diamonds children and families it supports.

“I came to Penn State as a student to follow my dream, and I believe everyone deserves the opportunity to follow their dreams,” Forsberg said. “That’s what THON does — it gives these kids that chance to follow their dreams.”

Despite the collective difficulties imposed by the ongoing pandemic, Solomon said the support of the Penn State community has remained unwavering as THON has continued in its mission this year.

“We are funding research every day. We support Four Diamonds families all year round,” Solomon said. “THON is not just one particular weekend — THON is the sense of hope we help provide children and families fighting childhood cancer. It’s everything we do.”

 

Last Updated February 17, 2021