DUBOIS, Pa. — As this year's Penn State DuBois THON dancers recover from spending the weekend on their feet "For the Kids," they're able to reflect on an emotional milestone year for the campus. Steve Carns, of Clearfield, and Braden Neal, of Punxsutawney, represented the campus as Penn State DuBois' official THON dancers from Feb. 19-21 at the Bryce Jordan Center at University Park. This year the DuBois THON committee shattered its fundraising record, and made it on the top 10 list of Penn State campuses contributing to THON's total.
Each year, THON challenges dancers to stay on their feet for 46 hours to raise money for the Four Diamonds Fund. The event's sole beneficiary, and a leader in the fight against pediatric cancer, the Four Diamonds Fund fills in the funding gaps that insurance leaves for the patients it serves, enabling families to focus on caring for their child. Because of large donors like THON, Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital recruits world-class talent to continue innovative research, and to maintain and expand the state-of-the-art children’s hospital.
The DuBois team raised $22,274 toward this year's University-wide THON total of $9,770,332. This placed DuBois at No. 9 on the list of Penn State Commonwealth Campus locations, the first time DuBois has ever made the top 10. For more on the THON's overall reach, visit thon.org.
In addition to being among the top 10 Penn State locations to contribute to THON, the Penn State DuBois team also far exceeded its previous THON fundraising record of $17,000 set in 2014.
"It's incredibly emotional. It's amazing," said Marly Doty, assistant director of student affairs at the DuBois campus, who serves as adviser for the THON team and accompanies students to the event each year. "Our team this year was the total underdog. They were young, we had two first-year dancers, and even had two canning weekends canceled. With all the challenges we had this year, they stuck to the mission and stuck it out 'For the Kids.' I'm so incredibly proud of them."
Students raise funds for THON in a variety of ways. They hold dinners, bingo fundraisers, solicit donations and more. The largest single fundraiser this year was a hair auction during the THON Dancer Sendoff Dinner on Thursday evening, Feb. 18. A total of $5,000 was raised between the hair auction and a silent auction that was also held at the event. The hair auction allowed for bids to be placed to reach a reserve for each volunteer. When that amount was reached, the volunteer agreed to cut their hair for the cause. Those who agreed to the haircut were students Julianne Inzana, Courtney Mullins and Linsey Mizic, Mathematics Instructor John Tolle, and alumnus Eric Ehrensberger.
"The work that the Four Diamonds Fund does is priceless. I'm very glad to donate my hair for that," Tolle said.
Mizik and Mullins made their hair donations work twice as hard, by not only raising money for THON, but by deciding to also donate their hair to Wigs 4 Kids. The organization uses real hair to make wigs for children who have lost their hair due to chemotherapy treatments and other illnesses.
Mizik, who had 14 inches of hair cut off, revealed that her dedication to this plan began years ago. "When I was in ninth grade in high school I heard about THON," she said. "I decided then that I'd grow my hair until my senior year in college, and then donate it."
Mullins had 17 inches of hair removed, and brought in the most money at the hair auction. Raising $1,700, she brought in $100 for every inch of hair she donated.
"It means the world to me that I can help my peers raise this money and to work as a community to reach this goal," Mullins said.
That community extends to faculty and staff members who support the cause, as well. Husband and wife team Tony Vallone and Jackie Atkins are both members of the English faculty at Penn State DuBois, and they have supported THON in various ways for years. One way in which they show their support is to challenge others to donate by offering to match those donations through Vallone's publishing company, Mammoth Books. This year, the couple's efforts brought in more than $3,000.
"I hope the University truly appreciates the efforts of our handful of students who raised so much money for such a great cause," said Atkins. "I give my time and donate to THON in large part because it is student-run. Students gain so much experience with fundraising, organizing, publicizing, and so on that cannot be replicated in the classroom. Also, a major part of a student's education should involve making a positive difference for other people, and these students surely do."
As for the dancers who spent their weekend giving it their all on the floor of the Jordan Center, they would do it all again in a heartbeat.
"Four Diamonds is a fantastic charity geared toward fighting pediatric cancer," Carns said. "THON is important to this foundation because of the massive amount of funds that it excites people to solicit and donate. THON puts light on a very dark matter and presents such a positive face that people are happy to put forth their own efforts."
"Doing service for THON doesn't feel like work; it's so much more than that," said Neal. "You are with your friends raising money and giving all of yourself to the cause. Without THON, so much passion and energy would be lost in the cause."
THON began in 1973, when dancers raised just more than $2,000. Today, it is the largest student-run philanthropy in the nation.