Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon
|Motto||Helping to Conquer Childhood Cancer
For The Kids (FTK)
|Executive Director||Megan Renaut (2015)|
|Affiliations||Four Diamonds Fund|
The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, commonly referred to as THON, is a three-day Dance Marathon that takes place every February at the Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pennsylvania, United States with the purpose of raising money and providing emotional support to children and families in order to combat pediatric cancer. It was started in 1973 by the university's Interfraternity Council, and in its first year, more than $2,000 was raised, with 39 couples dancing for 30 hours straight. Today, it is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, by involvement and revenue with $13,343,517.33 having been raised at the 2014 event. The money that is raised is donated to The Four Diamonds Fund, a charity devoted to defeating pediatric cancer through research and caring for patients at the Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital. 74% of funds are transferred to an experimental therapeutics fund while 12% of funds are used for patient and family support. In 2011, the Four Diamonds Experimental Therapeutics Endowment was funded to a level which enabled the Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital to recruit two physician scientists to the Four Diamonds research team. More than 15,000 students get involved in THON each year, organizing it and raising funds with the rallying cry, "FOR THE KIDS!".
First Penn State Dance Marathon
Relationship with the Four Diamonds Fund begins
First six-figure total
"THON" abbreviation adopted
Panhellenic Council joins IFC in sponsorship
First seven-figure total
First eight-figure total
Most recent THON
Total raised since 1973
Originally, THON was proposed as a way to rebuild the Intrafraternity Council's image, and began as a dance competition. It began taking place in the HUB Ballroom in 1973, serving as a competition that split proceeds between the marathon winners and a charity. More than $2,000 was raised, and it went to a charity for special needs children, while the couple that raised the most money and completed the thirty-hour marathon received $300. The following year, fundraising efforts multiplied, the length of the event was extended to 48 hours, and more than $10,000 was raised for the American Heart Association.
In 1977, a new charity was selected to be the recipient of the money raised by the dance marathon, The Four Diamonds Fund. That year, nearly $29,000 was raised, and in 1978, nearly $53,000 was raised and designated for pediatric leukemia. That year, in a car accident while travelling from Penn State to the Hershey Medical Center to deliver the check for the money raised, several students were injured, and one, Kevin Steinberg, was killed. Today, one THON organizer is recognized each year for outstanding service with the Kevin Steinberg Award. That event sealed the bond between THON and The Four Diamonds Fund — THON has made a pledge that all money raised will be donated to Four Diamonds as long as they continue the fight against pediatric cancer.
In 1979, THON held its Kick-off Dinner for the first time and also moved into a new home: the Mary Beaver White Building. That year, the organization raised $72,132 for the kids. In 1982, Penn State Heisman Trophy winner John Cappelletti spoke to the dancers about losing his brother, Joey, to leukemia ten years earlier, and the event that year raised more than $95,000, and the following year, the sum of $131,000 was raised. In 1988, nearly $300,000 was raised, and in 1990, THON raised $671,000. That year, the Panhellenic Council became an official co-sponsor, and the IFC Dance Marathon became the IFC / Panhellenic Dance Marathon. Two years later, the 20th anniversary THON passed the million dollar mark. $2.0 million was raised in 1998.
In 1995, the organization chose Stacy Bingler as the first female Overall Chairperson. Two years later, in 1997, the first Family Carnival was held, and the next year, THON was held in the White Building for the very last time. In 1999, the marathon moved to Rec Hall. $3.0 million was raised in 2000, only one year later. In 2006, the previous record of $4.1 million was broken when more than $4.21 million was raised. 2010 marked the fifteenth year Alpha Tau Omega and Zeta Tau Alpha were the top money raising organizations, raising more than $308,000 combined and over $1,000,000 in the last four years. In addition, Alpha Tau Omega and Zeta Tau Alpha hold the distinction of having the longest consecutive top funding stretch. In 2009, Atlas Benefiting THON became the first independent organization to break the $200,000 mark, raising over $216,000 and being the third overall fundraising organization. Atlas, in 2011, raised $381,884.97, marking the first time in THON history that an independent organization was the top fundraiser. Independent organizations such as Springfield, benefiting THON the oldest independent organization founded in 2000, and Atlas, the top fundraising independent organization, were created for the sole reason of supporting THON. In 2007, THON was moved to the larger Bryce Jordan Center and shortened to 46 hours.
In recent years, with sufficient money to cover treatment costs, THON has shifted its focus to long-term projects. The first such project was the establishment of the Four Diamonds Research Institute at the Penn State Children's Hospital. Two endowed chair positions, complete with lab funding and research scholarships, have now been funded. The original pledge of $5 million for this project was made in 1999 and was to be paid over 5 years, but the organization did it in only two. In 2004, $10 million, to be contributed over six years, was pledged to create a Pediatric Cancer Pavilion at the Hershey Medical Center. While the current facilities are completely modern from a medical point-of-view, treatment areas are scattered all over the hospital, and many of the facilities are not designed for the treatment of pediatric patients. The Pavilion's design will consolidate all of these functions and include design features—like wide hallways for play and water fountains appropriate for a child's height—designed specifically for its young visitors.
For THON 2014, the Overall Committee was renamed to the Executive Committee in order to make THON more relatable to those outside of the Penn State community. Subsequently, THON Overalls are now referred to as THON Directors.
Events Throughout the Year
A number of events throughout the year pave the way to THON weekend:
- Tours of the Penn State Children's Hospital are available year-round, enabling student volunteers to connect on a personal level with those whom their generosity benefits.
- 100 Days Until THON is a campus-wide event designed to encourage student involvement. Student volunteers staff information tables and activities all over Penn State's University Park campus.
- The new THON logo is announced each year during the THON Family Carnival.
This event, held in the fall, has grown into the largest 5K in central Pennsylvania. Thousands of runners gather each fall to raise awareness and funds for THON and The Four Diamonds Fund. Awards are given to the top finishers in different age categories. Typically a Four Diamonds family comes and speaks before the race starts. The race starts and ends at the Bryce Jordan Center located on Curtin Road on Penn State's University Park campus.
THON Family Carnival
The Family Carnival is held each year approximately a month after the THON 5k is held. During the Family Carnival, many current and former Four Diamonds families come to Penn State to visit with their "Penn State pals" as well as their Adopt-a-Family organizations. Penn State's White Building is filled with games in the carnival or boardwalk style, all made and staffed by student volunteers. At the end of the event, THON's organizers and the Executive Committee unveil the new logo. At this time, the THON Store is re-opened and merchandise featuring the new logo is sold, with all the profits contributing to the year's total and donations for the Four Diamonds Fund.
The Road to THON Celebration
This event, held in February, was once the beginning of the "fundraising window", the period during which organizations may solicit funds in the charity's name. Year-round fundraising is prohibited for a variety of reasons. However, the fundraising window has been significantly expanded, now usually starting in early October. The Road to THON Celebration is no longer formally linked to fundraising, and has instead become a celebration of the "spirit of THON," featuring speeches by THON organizers and the presentation of awards to exceptional volunteers. In the past this event was known and recognized by volunteers as the "THON Kick-off Dinner."
- The Four Diamond Awards: four awards given to those who best embody the virtues of Courage, Wisdom, Honesty, and Strength, which Chris Millard felt were essential for defeating pediatric cancer.
- The Rick Funk Leadership Award: given to any full-time undergraduate of at least 6th semester standing who has demonstrated commitment, loyalty, leadership, and the ability to motivate others involved in Dance Marathon.
- Kevin Steinberg Award: given to one THON organizer each year to recognize service to Dance Marathon and The Four Diamonds Fund.
- Courtney O'Bryan Award: the award honors the memory of O’Bryan who was killed in a vehicle accident on Dec. 2, 2011 while traveling with Sigma Delta Tau sorority to fundraise for THON. The award will recognize the volunteer who most embodies O’Bryan’s charitable work and dedication to THON’s mission.
While Dance Marathon encompasses all of the fundraising and spirit activities held throughout the year, THON Weekend is the actual marathon itself, taking place during the third weekend in February. In 2007, THON moved to its new home in the Bryce Jordan Center on the Penn State University campus in State College, PA, USA. Captains, committee members, and the Executive Committee spend the entire weekend there conducting the event, even sleeping in makeshift accommodations set up throughout the building. Each of the organizing committees is responsible for different tasks throughout the weekend. For example, Morale keeps the dancers motivated, Rules and Regulations keeps them safe, and OPPerations performs construction and janitorial duties.
The dancers, unlike the volunteers, do not get to take a break. They are, however, treated to a variety of food solicited by the Hospitality committee and donated by various local restaurants and stores. Volunteers are also responsible for ensuring that the dancers are entertained throughout the two days. For many years now, Larry Moore has been the event's official DJ, staying awake with the dancers and spinning their favorite tunes as well as crowd favorites like "Living on a Prayer" by Bon Jovi. While teams were once ranked by their dancing, docked points for both time off the floor and not keeping time with the music, Dance Marathon has become a no-sitting, no-sleeping marathon. Dancers are expected to remain awake and on their feet all weekend. It is not unusual to see dancers remain standing even while receiving medical attention from athletic trainers and EMTs who also volunteer their time.
Many visitors come to Penn State for THON Weekend. Alumni, especially those with past volunteer involvement, frequently return for the event. Penn State tour guides make certain to introduce prospective students and their families to the largest student-run philanthropy in the world. Current and former Four Diamonds families (those receiving support from the Fund for their child's illness) are perhaps the most welcome visitors. Dancers and fundraising organizations look forward to seeing the children that ultimately benefit from their actions. The Family Relations committee is responsible for ensuring their time there is a respite from their usual concerns.
Local and national news coverage of the event is common. Large sections of both the campus newspaper, The Daily Collegian, and the local newspaper, The Centre Daily Times, are devoted to covering it each year. It has been featured on The Today Show on NBC more than once. Each year, promotional videos are produced which are widely purchased by students and alumni. In 2005, under the guidance of the Technology committee, webcasts were begun on both the public Internet and high-speed Penn State inter-campus links. The former brought the events to children being treated at Hershey who were too sick to make the trip themselves. The webcasts provide 24/7 live coverage of the events taking place THON weekend. Most recently, the website has been redesigned by the Technology Committee to give THON a completely new look.
THON Weekend 2014 took place February 21–23, 2014. It raised $13,343,517.33, the most money raised to date.
Besides the 700 dancers and more than 15,000 organizers, thousands of Penn State students get involved in raising money for THON. These students are generally organized into teams under other student organizations. Many organizations field THON teams, from fraternities and sororities to the University Park Undergraduate Association. Students who are not affiliated with a particular organization can also raise money to enter a lottery to dance as individual couple. Individual dancer couples are selected in the beginning of February. Teams are responsible for abiding by rules issued by the Executive Committee, the organizing body of THON, but are otherwise independent and allowed to raise funds however they see fit. Most of them go "canning", standing in public places throughout the U.S. Northeast on weekends from September to November with cans carrying the Penn State logo and the plea to "Help Kids with Cancer". Other students employ door-to-door solicitation and letter solicitation, while others request corporate donations. There has been a recent shift in focus to these alternative forms of fundraising as worries have emerged over student safety while canning.
Fundraising is not the only focus. One of THON's primary goals is to raise awareness of the plight of children afflicted with pediatric cancer. Campus organizations, especially fraternities and sororities, compete for "Spirit Points" that are seen as in the "Spirit of THON". Possibilities for earning points include volunteering on one of the organizing committees, hosting or attending THON events, and donating materials necessary for the weekend itself. While points were once awarded purely on number of team members involved, there has been a recent shift to awards based on percentage of members involved. This new system was an attempt to level the playing field for smaller student organizations. The winning organization receives a number of prizes, including special admission privileges to that year's event, as well as the following year's.
Each committee is made up of a number of Captains, as well as one Director, and assigned a color.
- Executive - Composed of the 14 Committee Directors as well as 1 Executive Director
- Communications - Kelly Green - 24 Captains
- Donor and Alumni Relations - Royal Blue - 27 Captains
- Entertainment - Orange - 27 Captains
- Family Relations - Light Blue - 23 Captains
- Finance - Dark Green - 28 Captains
- Hospitality - Hot Pink - 20 Captains
- Merchandise - Light Pink - 21 Captains
- Dancer Relations - Yellow - 20 Captains
- OPPerations - Navy Blue - 21 Captains
- Public Relations - Purple - 22 Captains
- Rules and Regulations - Red - 34 Captains
- Special Events - Maroon - 21 Captains
- Supply Logistics - Lime Green - 21 Captains
- Technology - Safety Green - 21 Captains
- Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center
- Four Diamonds Fund
- Bryce Jordan Center
- Pennsylvania State University
- Dance in the United States
- Northwestern University Dance Marathon
- Hurst, David (2009-02-22). "PSU gives back with THON". The Altoona Mirror (Altoona Mirror). Retrieved 2009-02-23.
- McCormack, Lauren (2009-02-02). "Penn State's THON a charitable tradition". The Daily Local News (Daily Local News). Retrieved 2009-02-23.
- "THON 2014 'redefines the possibilities' with $13.3 million for pediatric cancer".
- Town&Gown and The Barash Group (2007). "THON 2007 For the Kids, 35th Anniversary". Informational Booklet: 24 Pages.
- This Is Penn State: An Insider's Guide to the University Park Campus - Penn State Press - Google Libri. Books.google.it. Retrieved on 2014-06-17.
- Ryan, Pfister; Bethany Fehlinger (2006-03-27). "Thon 2007 cut short for basketball". The Daily Collegian (Collegian Inc.). Retrieved 2007-03-25.
- Kelsey, Collins (2007-02-08). "Independent dancers hustle for spot on BJC floor". The Daily Collegian (Collegian Inc.). Retrieved 2007-03-25.
- Overalls are out and Executives are in for THON 2014. Onward State. Retrieved on 2013-07-23.
- Apply To Be A Captain | Penn State Dance Marathon. Thon.org. Retrieved on 2014-06-17.
- "Taking a Stand for 46 Hours". Lens, New York Times. February 22, 2013.