Why they THON: Meet four Penn Staters making THON 2020 happen

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Every year, the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon — or THON — raises millions of dollars to support Four Diamonds, fund pediatric cancer research and support families impacted by the disease.

As the world’s largest student-run philanthropy, more than 16,500 student volunteers from across Penn State work diligently every year to make THON happen. Students devote themselves to the cause across 16 committees that handle all elements of THON planning and execution, ranging from finances and operations to communications and marketing.

As they make their final preparations this week for THON 2020, take this opportunity to learn more about four Penn Staters who are working to make this year’s THON the best it can be. Responses have been lightly edited for concision and clarity.


Shreshtha Singh

Media Relations Liaison, Public Relations Committee

THON 2020 Media Relations Liaison Shreshtha Singh said he THONs to make a positive impact on society and bring joy to children fighting pediatric cancer.   Credit: Image ProvidedAll Rights Reserved.

Q: Why do you THON?

A: THON is not just an organization, but a vision — and more than that, it is a family. I became a part of THON because I wanted to help to bring a smile on the faces of the children with cancer who have never done anything wrong to be stricken with such a terrible disease.

As part of the Penn State community I strongly feel a sense of duty towards society, and being involved in THON is a great way to contribute to society. Coming from India to the U.S., I feel that I am very fortunate to have such an opportunity.

Q: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from THON?

A: I am amazed how the students of Penn State dance for 46 hours to support the children and honor them in their battle with cancer. This made me realize that we all are a family here at THON and Penn State — because no one other than family could do such a great thing together.


Amanda Soukoulis 

Athletics/Special Events Captain, Family Relations Committee

THON 2020 Athletics/Special Events Captain Amanda Soukoulis, seen here with a former Four Diamonds child, said she THONS for "more smiles and more birthdays" for children with pediatric cancer. Credit: Image ProvidedAll Rights Reserved.

Q: What does your role with THON entail?

A:  I plan the family involvement for kids at THON athletic events like THON hoops, THON football and THON hockey. Last year, I danced for the Lionettes dance team in THON 2019. It has been an incredible experience being on the other end of side of THON this year! 

Q: Why do you THON?

A: I THON for our little warriors who so fearlessly face life. I THON for our angels who leave a legacy for us to continue the fight. I THON for the siblings, parents and children of those who fight for their lives. I THON for the various family members and friends who have battled cancer. I THON for more smiles and more birthdays! 

Q: What is your favorite THON memory?

A: I danced for the Lionettes in THON 2019. We had been paired with [a Four Diamonds family] and it was the family’s first THON. Their daughter was in her fourth and most difficult cycle of treatment when we met her, so THON came at a great time for their family.

During the final hours, the family stayed back with me and the other two Lionettes dancers to take it all in. A news outlet interviewed [their mother] and asked about the experience. She broke down a little, pointed at me and the other Lionettes who danced in THON 2019, and explained how the Lionettes had become their family during the hardest of times.

That special moment will stay with me forever, and to me that is why we THON. 


Kendra Pysher

Fundraising Executive, Altoona Benefiting THON

Kendra Physher, the fundraising executive for Altoona Benefiting THON, first attended THON with a close friend and Four Diamonds child shortly after her father passed away from cancer. Credit: Image ProvidedAll Rights Reserved.

Q: How did you first learn about THON?

A: I learned about THON in 2014 after my father passed away from cancer. My best friend was a Four Diamonds child and asked me if I would like to go to THON with her.

I didn't know much about THON, except that it was a bunch of college students raising money for pediatric cancer. But when I walked into the Bryce Jordan Center for the first time, I was amazed and my jaw dropped. THON was so much more than I ever thought, and I was so blessed to be given an opportunity to experience THON with someone who the organization has helped so tremendously.

Q: What is your favorite THON memory?

A: Definitely dancing in THON 2018! That was truly the best weekend of my life, and something I will never forget. Being able to interact with all of the children and families warmed my heart, and made me realize how lucky I truly am. Some of our THON family came and surprised us on the floor on Saturday, which was so amazing — I’ve never been so happy! 

Q: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from THON?

A: These kids and families are so strong — I strive to be as brave as them one day. Before THON, I always knew I wanted to be a nurse, but after experiencing THON, I know that I want to specialize in oncology.

THON has truly changed my life and college experience, and I am so grateful for everything the organization has done for the families I have met over my four years.


Jackie Schwartz

Hershey Tour and Committee Events Coordinator

Jackie Schwartz, this year's Hershey Tour and Events Coordinator for THON, said her childhood experience watching her mother battle cancer helped inspire her to join THON when she came to Penn State. Credit: Image ProvidedAll Rights Reserved.

Q: Why do you THON?

A: Helplessness is a feeling no family, no child, and no person should ever feel. When I was six years old, I felt helpless. My mom was not her normal self — she was lethargic and I knew something was wrong. After two years of tests, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin's lymphoma.

While my mom endured six months of intense chemotherapy, I wished I could do something more to show her love and support. Luckily, my mom has now been cancer-free for 14 years. Not everyone is as lucky as we are, and not every family comes out of the darkness.

When my mom was sick, my family realized that the best gift someone can give is support. THON gives every family support and love. The support that every organization gives to their families is so beneficial and so special.

I want families to receive magic, support and love from every person involved in THON. I also want to let the entire THON community know just how important they are in maintaining the spirit, progress and success of THON.

I THON for every family to give them a little bit of magic, support, love and hope.

Q: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from THON?

A: The biggest thing I have learned is you never know what someone else is going through, so it is always important to show empathy towards others. As someone who has had two members of my immediate family have cancer, I have seen firsthand the small miracles people can perform to others by being kind.

Being kind to the people around us is truly what makes the world a better place. THON gives families a reason to smile through the hardest part of their lives. It provides children a safe place to run around and be happy.

THON has changed my perspective by allowing me to see other people in a kinder and friendlier way. 

Last Updated February 21, 2020