DUBOIS — The concept isn’t new, but the results are staggering.
Today, on-site preparations officially begin for THON, a shorter name for the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, which, since 1973, has raised funds and awareness for the fight against pediatric cancer.
While THON is a year-long effort with several events over the course of the year, the culmination of those efforts begins Friday and runs through Sunday — a 46-hour dance marathon held at the Bryce Jordan Center.
THON specifically seeks to provide financial and emotional support to Four Diamond families, those being treated at Penn State’s Hershey Medical Center.
Last year, THON participants raised $7,838,054.36.
Efforts for THON are not contained to only University Park, but by students throughout Penn State’s 20 branch campuses and alumni around the world.
One of those students who has been busy preparing all year is Eddie Smith of Punxsy, who serves as the THON co-chair at PSU-DuBois with Carrie Flanagan.
Smith, an information technology and business double major at PSU-DuBois, also serves as an upperclassman senator for the campus’ Student Government Association.
“I had heard of THON, but I did not know what it stood for until a student government meeting,” he said this week. “Right then, I was hooked because of my prior history with cancer.”
At three months old, doctors extracted his left kidney and half of his right at nine months, as he had been diagnosed with Wilms’ tumor, a rare kidney cancer affecting mainly children. He lived his life for 31 years with only half a kidney, but that changed in early January 2010, when he received a kidney transplant at UPMC-Montefiore.
“I woke up around 6 p.m. with a new kidney and everything,” he said in an interview about two months after his surgery.
For as much energy as Penn State students need to dance for 46 hours, they need almost as much energy to fund raise for THON. Fund-raising examples include spaghetti dinners, car washes and even a THON 5K run this past October at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Monday, a beauty pageant crowned a “Mr. DuBois” and raised $332, and during the weekend before Groundhog Day, Smith organized a dodgeball tournament at the Punxsutawney Area Community Center that attracted 19 teams and raised $1,043 for THON.
But one of the biggest fund-raising efforts is “canning,” or soliciting donations with large plastic or tin cans in the area.
Smith said this year, from Oct. 1 to Feb. 18, PSP-DuBois THON committee members set aside four weekends for canning, which is what he described as “where you make the bulk of your money.” The committee must consult a database to see what other events and fund-raisers may be going on before scheduling its canning dates.
“Then we try to get as many locations as we can,” Smith said. Some canning location have included sites in DuBois and County Market locations in Punxsy and Philipsburg.
“It’s truly hard to gauge an event, especially months ahead,” Smith said about fund-raising for THON. “You play by ear until that day. If something happens, we’ll make it an outdoor event, and most of the things we do are indoors. Operating from October to February, the majority of the time, we’ll be inside because of the weather.”
Smith’s favorite part of THON: “Seeing the kids.”
For the last several year, the PSU-DuBois effort has sponsored the family of Joey Setlock, who was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma in April 2005.
In 2006, after about a year of treatments, attended his first THON with his family, younger brother Michael and parents Stan and Kathy.
This year will mark Joey’s fifth year of being cancer-free, according to The Daily Collegian of Penn State.
Hundreds of college students, children and alumni groups will hit the floor Friday at the Bryce Jordan Center, and despite the eventual fatigue, there won’t be no stopping.
“My job is to keep these guys up till at least 5 or 6 in the morning,” he said of the PSU-DuBois team.