Thursday, December 14

Penn State Students: Curing Cancer One Dance AT A Time

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The Penn State IFC/ Panhellenic Dance Marathon, abbreviated to THON, is the largest student – run philanthropy in the world with only one mission: to annihilate childhood cancer. A year-long fundraising firestorm culminates in a 46 hour no sleeping, no sitting dance marathon in February.

Founded in 1973, a small group of 39 dancer pairs participated and raised $2,000. In 2011, a force of 700 dancers and 15,000 student volunteers raised over nine million dollars. So how did a small group of idealist co-eds grow into an army of thousands waging war on pediatric cancer?

President Bill Lear (’72-’73) organized a dance marathon in 1973 to raise money for a worthwhile cause. That February, thirty-nine couples paid $10 to participate in a competition lasting thirty hours. The competition worked so that each pair was awarded one point per every minute of dancing and one more point for every dollar of money they raised. The very first planning committee was conservative with their goals, warning people not to expect more than a $20 final total. At the end of the thirty hours, seventeen couples were still dancing and over $2,000 was donated to the Butler County Association for Retarded Children. Even in its first year, THON was already surpassing expectations.

Subsequently, the marathon evolved over the next few years and necessary changes were implanted. Volunteers installed bleachers to accommodate the audience and supporters of the dancers. THON received a theme in 1976 and in 1978, the final total raised broke $50,000 donated to the Four Diamonds Fund at the Hershey Medical Center. Moreover, in 1978, a tragic accident cemented the relationship between Penn State’s THON and the Hershey Medical Center. On the way to deliver the check to Hershey, four men were involved in a car accident that claimed the life of one passenger. The relationship remains intact to this day, with a scholarship set up to honor the life and service of the lost student.

Dancers and fundraisers alike celebrated in 1983, when the marathon broke the six figure mark with $131, 000 raised. Nine years later, another milestone was shattered. On February 16, 1992, THON Overall Chair John Ferenchak announced a total of over one million dollars. That total was doubled in 1998. The year of 1999 saw a huge transition for THON as well, it relocated to it’s third, but not final home, Recreation Hall. A web cast established in 2006 permitted viewers in thirty countries to take part in THON and experience the overwhelming excitement of a grand total north of four million dollars. THON’s 35 anniversary in 2007 was celebrate with yet another relocation – to the Bryce Jordan Center, the largest indoor venue in central Pennsylvania. The social media site, Twitter, proved to publicize the event further, with celebrities tweeting and retweeting about THON to their millions of followers.

Since its inception, the Penn State Dance Marathon has raised over sixty five million dollars, with more than one third of that total raised in the last five years. The year 2011 proved to be the most successful year yet with over three hundred team captains, thirty five hundred committee members, seven hundred dancers, and fifteen thousand student volunteers spending countless hours raising almost ten million dollars for the Hershey Medical Center. Growing potential for THON is limitless but at its core, THON remains completely devoted to making sure one day no child will have to suffer from cancer. They operate under one motto: “One day we will dance in celebration. Until then, we dance for a cure.”


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