UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Laser tag, making blankets for families fighting cancer, fishing — and of course, a 46-hour dance marathon — are some of the most memorable activities from the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon (THON) activities for the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences (EMS) benefiting THON team. The group raised $71,302.45 in the fight against childhood cancer, making it the third-highest general organization in THON for 2016. The EMS benefiting THON group raised the largest amount of any general organization from 2011 to 2015.
The EMS benefiting THON team had seven dancers in 2016, all of whom learned about THON in Total Orientation To Earth and Mineral Sciences (TOTEMS), a weekend of activities designed to help incoming first-year students transition to college life.
Providing more than financial support
THON is well known because it is the largest student-run philanthropy in the U.S. But the financial support is just part of the package. The yearlong THON activities focus on providing emotional support to families who are paired with various THON organizations. The EMS benefiting THON group supported four families in 2016.
Student volunteers plan weekend trips to spend time with families, whether the family is bereaved, fighting cancer or recovering from a successful battle. For the EMS benefiting THON dancers, this interaction with family members — not only getting to know their story, but to be part of their story — has inspired them to plan more trips and become more involved.
Shelby Miller said that seeing how the families have changed through the years is something she will always remember.
“We’ve spent so much time with our THON families, like playing laser tag for Jackson Hollinger’s birthday or going fishing at the Brewer family’s cabin,” said Miller, an environmental systems engineering major. “It’s amazing to see how the children and families we’re supporting have changed through the years. They are awesome people. Knowing their stories and what they’ve gone through with cancer has fueled my passion to be more involved in THON.”
Presence over presents
The EMS benefiting THON group stresses “presence over presents,” said Maggie Norton, a geography major and EMS benefiting THON executive director.
“We’d rather be with them than send them gifts, even if we are not physically in the same room. Posting a Facebook picture of our THON meetings and sharing that with families can go a long way — it’s a reminder to them that we’re always thinking about them,” she said.
That presence means students take time out of their busy school schedules to be with families fighting childhood cancer, like the Schmidts, whose 6-year-old daughter Emily is undergoing treatment for cancer. 2016 was the first year the Schmidts were involved in THON and they were paired with the EMS benefiting THON team.
“One of my favorite activities leading up to THON this year was the first time the Schmidts came to campus for a THON event, which was a 5K fundraiser,” said Josh Gugel, a meteorology major and EMS benefiting THON dancer. “Emily was a little shy at first, but she quickly began playing with a hula hoop with us and singing songs from 'Frozen' with Penn State cheerleaders. This was her first experience with something related to THON, and she enjoyed it so much that she asked her mom right away if she could come back and be more involved.”