Ready to Dance

The Penn State Dance Marathon, or THON, is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world. But it's so much more than just a weekend of dancing: students put in thousands of hours of work behind the scenes of THON's fight against pediatric cancer.

In 2014, THON raised a record-breaking $13.34 million through THON Weekend, exceeding the previous year's total by more than $1 million and bringing the total support for Four Diamonds at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital to $114 million since 1977. 

This year, 708 dancers representing all of Penn State's campuses will again face the challenge of the 46-hour no-sitting, no-sleeping dance marathon in the University's Bryce Jordan Center (BJC). But THON is much more than just a weekend of fun under the spotlights. In fact, most of the organization's student committees started planning as early as last September.

Students meet at THON offices to iron out final planning details.

THON 2015: Planning the Final Details

THON Fundraising Captain Shaker Alabdullatif, right, meeting with Security Captain Tommy Radziminski outside the THON offices to discuss some planning details for THON 2015 coming to the Bryce Jordan Center Feb. 20 to 22.

Image: Patrick Mansell

OPPerations

THON 2015 OPPerations Director Andy Koffke, an Architectural Engineering major, says he has enjoyed working behind the scenes: "It's not about being recognized. It makes you feel good just seeing smiles from the children and knowing everything you've done is worth it."

Student volunteers clean 10,000 square feet of floor mats used on the BJC floor. About 1,000 people help clean those mats during three mat cleanings.

As the backbone of THON Weekend, the committee dedicated to physical preparations and BJC maintenance and teardown has a big part to play in making sure everything goes smoothly through the entire 46-hour event. Committee members will be at the BJC in the early hours of Friday morning, laying floor mats and more, and remain until hours after the event concludes on Sunday afternoon, coordinating closely with all the participants. 

"We also try to implement the sustainability initiatives of Penn State, making sure our waste management works efficiently and trying to reuse things for next year if possible," says Koffke.

Hospitality

Chemical Engineering major Jennifer Mills, serving her second year as the Hospitality director, says she has learned a lot from her journey in THON. Her experience with three different committees—Special Events, Donor and Alumni Relations, and Hospitality—has provided her different perspectives and a better understanding of the overall effort of THON. 

The dancer relations committee sorts mail for THON dancers.

THON 2015: Boosting Morale with Dancer Mail

Dancer relations committee members, left to right, Megan Martin, Alexis Biesecker and Christina Quaglia organize dancer mail that arrives from around the nation. The letters from family and friends are delivered to dancers during 'mail call' and provide a much needed morale boost.

Image: Patrick Mansell

"I think the leadership you grow in THON is really valuable in that you are not only leading people in day-to-day responsibilities but inspiring them to achieve incredible things with our organization," says Mills. "I have always tried to maximize my ability to make an impact, which is how I became more and more involved over the years." 

Volunteers and dancers consume about 18,000 liters of water, 1,567 feet of Subway subs donated throughout the year, and 2,800 slices of pizza donated throughout the year.

Her committee works closely with donors across the nation, developing relationships and organizing all the supply chain logistics, or delivery of goods, for THON Weekend and its other events throughout the year. Members of the Hospitality committee will serve all the meals for 708 dancers and visiting Four Diamonds families during THON Weekend. 

Dancer Relations

Going forty-six hours without sleeping or sitting is not easy for the dancers. The twenty captains overseeing 720 members of the Dancer Relations Committee are dedicated to supporting the dancers in many different ways throughout the year.

THON 2014

THON 2014

THON participants occupy themselves with table activites during day two of THON 2014.

Image: Michelle Bixby

"We paired up the dancers with volunteers who will provide them entertainment and support their well-being throughout the THON Weekend based on their interests and personality," says Director of Dancer Relations Victoria Brauer. "We provide a lot of workshops to educate the volunteers and help them build up their relationships with the dancers during the year." 

Brauer adds, "We are currently busy sorting out all the dancer mail. Usually each dancer will receive one to four care packages from their parents and friends."

To clean the BJC after THON Weekend, 750 volunteers use 3,000 latex gloves to clean bleachers, 120 mop buckets, 175 mops, and 100 brooms.

Christopher Schmidt, a Dancer Relations committee member since his first year at Penn State, says that each year, THON Weekend has gone far beyond his expectations. 

"To me, it means so much more than just a weekend. It means helping kids fight cancer, it means making them smile at events all year long, it means having a positive impact on the world around you, and after all this happens, it culminates into the kind of weekend every kid dreams they had every weekend of their lives," says Schmidt. "It's so amazing to see so many college students stand together for a weekend for all the kids." 

You can be a part of THON wherever you are: log onto the webcast at THON.org/webcast.

The History of THON

THON was first organized in 1973 by a group of students looking to add excitement to a dreary February in central Pennsylvania, and for a way to give back to the community. Today, Penn State's THON continues to be the longest dance marathon in the country lasting 46 hours. 

THON has grown to engage more than 15,000 students each year and has inspired other university, high school, middle school, and elementary school students across the nation to start dance marathons of their own all in the hopes of conquering pediatric cancer!