By: Amanda Hunt, THON/Philanthropy Chair
Over the last several months, our chapter’s THON/Philanthropy Committee has been working tirelessly to do all they can to contribute to the fight against pediatric cancer by fundraising for the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon (THON). This weekend, we will join more than 15,000 Penn State students from over 600 organizations in a 46-hour long celebration, united in the fight for a cure.
The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon was founded in 1973 with what began simply as an annual no-sitting, no-sleeping dance marathon to raise money for charity. The funds raised went to a different charity each year until 1977 when the dance marathon paired with the Four Diamonds. Founded by Charles and Irma Millard following the loss of their son, Christopher Millard, to pediatric cancer, the Four Diamonds was established to provide financial support to the families of children with cancer. Five years later, in 1977, the Four Diamonds entered a charter with the Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital and thus became the sole beneficiary of THON.
Since then, Penn State students involved in THON have raised over $127 million for the Four Diamonds (with over $13 million raised each of the last two years), and THON has grown to become the largest student-run philanthropy in the world. Today, the mission of THON is to provide emotional and financial support, spread awareness and ensure funding for critical research — all in pursuit of a cure. Even further, THON and the Four Diamonds bring students and patients at Hershey together by pairing each family benefitting from the Four Diamonds with a student organization at Penn State.
Our chapter of PRSSA only recently got involved in 2005, but even in that small amount of time in THON’s decades-long history, we have raised over $212,000 for the cause. Our members have participated by traveling around the state to participate in canister solicitation (canning) weekends, gone canvassing door-to-door in their hometowns, sent heartfelt letters to family and friends, and organized a variety of alternative fundraisers.
However, what we are most proud of is the relationship we have with our current Four Diamonds family, the Emily Whitehead family. At five years old, Emily was diagnosed with standard risk pre-b acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Following treatment at Hershey and multiple relapses, Emily’s last hope was a Phase I clinical trial at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). Emily was to be the first child in the world to receive this treatment, the process of which involved collecting her T-cells (a type of white blood cell) and genetically reprogramming them to recognize and attack her cancer cells. At first, the treatment made Emily very sick and her parents were told she had a one in one thousand chance of making it through the night. That night, our members drove from State College to Philadelphia, some skipping final exams, to visit Emily and show their support.
Emily survived the night and a few weeks later, following her seventh birthday, doctors found no evidence of cancer cells in her body. The treatment worked, and PRSSA is so glad to report that Emily, now ten years old, is celebrating 3.5 years cancer free. (Learn more about Emily’s story by visiting emilywhiteheadfoundation.org)
Emily and her parents, Tom and Kari, encourage and inspire us every day. Now, we THON so that the families of all children have access to the same kind of financial and emotional support as the Whiteheads did through the Four Diamonds. We THON to fund research for new treatments like the one that saved Emily’s life. We THON so that some day no parent ever has to hear the words, “your child has cancer.”
This year’s theme for THON 2016 is “Believe Beyond Boundaries”. Given our relationship with the Whiteheads, we have seen firsthand what power there is in believing. To us, there is no theme better fitted than this one.
In less than 46 hours, our members will enter the Bryce Jordan Center to celebrate this belief, as well as support our two dancers: Vice-President Jessica Savarese and THON Chair Maya Doumit. They will represent PRSSA and the Whiteheads as they stand for 46 hours in support of the fight for a cure. Already, we are so PRoud.
THON 2016 kicks off today, February 19 at the Bryce Jordan Center. The forty-six hours start at 6 p.m. when dancers and all in attendance stand. Join us by tuning in to the live broadcast at webcast.thon.org.
Donations will be accepted throughout the weekend. You can help us contribute to the fight against pediatric cancer HERE.
Together, we can make a difference. Together, we can find a cure.