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Passion and commitment drive EMS Benefiting THON

EMS Benefiting THON dancers at the 2018 Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

After a campus tour, Mackenzie Williams walked into the Bryce Jordan Center on a whim and was awestruck at the sight of the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, a 46-hour dance marathon known as THON.

Little did she know that she had just gotten her first taste of a cause that would change her life and the lives of thousands of others. That experience inspired Williams, a meteorology and atmospheric science major, to dedicate her time to the charity that raises money to help families affected by pediatric cancer.

She got involved as a first-year student with the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences (EMS) organization—EMS Benefiting THON—and has been participating with the group during all four years of college, rising to executive director as a senior.

Williams, a dancer in this year’s THON, leads the group of around 60 active members that focuses not only on finding a cure for childhood cancer, but also works to grow the characters of their members. Through facilitating relationships between the club and the families, encouraging the organization to raise funds for the cause and challenging students to step up to various leadership roles, EMS Benefiting THON is just as much for the students as it is for the families that they support.

“They’re here for us as much as we’re here for them,” Williams said.

Although the main event is Feb. 15, THON-related activities have been happening weeks and months beforehand. EMS Benefiting THON has raised more than $700,000 since their start in 2003 and has become creative in their fundraising methods. A date auction, a pizza sale and even one where people donate money to participate in “No Shave November,” are just a few of the ways the group raises funds.

More importantly, they organize monthly visits to their THON families. EMS Benefiting THON took on its first THON family in 2004 and now has four families. The family relations directors lead events designed to bond the families and their members. Among the multiple yearly activities, a much anticipated one is the annual Labor Day weekend camping trip, where they stay at one of the family’s cabins.

Kayla McCauley, a sophomore in meteorology and atmospheric science and one of the two family relations directors, shared that the typical duties of a family relations director are not only to provide opportunities for the families to get to know the members and vice versa, but also to call the families at least once a week to check in on how they are doing. However, it does not end there.

“These families give me more than I could ever give,” McCauley said.

This mentality motivates EMS Benefiting THON to go above and beyond. Two years ago, when one of their kids could not attend THON, a few committee members went to her home and held a mini-celebration for her during the event.

This is just one of the many examples of how the group treats THON as more than a fundraiser. It’s an event that commemorates courage and the strength of many. It’s made up of students who celebrate big triumphs of little people, like Jackson, one of the EMS Benefiting THON kids, who will have his last official oncology appointment in the next couple months. It shows unity and that trial and tribulation serve not only to bring them closer together but spur them to fight even harder.

It’s for this reason that Andrew Patterson, a senior in geography who has been a passionate member of both college and University THON committees for four years, chose to dance this February.

“Through dancing, I am able to demonstrate the commitment of EMS Benefiting THON to this cause and especially to our families,” Patterson said.

Other EMS Benefiting THON dancers include Mayson Atkinson,senior in petroleum and natural gas engineering, Robert Hilbig, junior in petroleum and natural gas engineering, and Vivian Rennie, senior in meteorology and atmospheric science.

THON is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world and has raised more than $157 million to help conquer childhood cancer. To get involved in THON, contact Mackenzie Williams at To donate or read more about the THON families, visit

Last Updated March 28, 2019