Universities strive to expand Dance Marathon organizations


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The University of Iowa Dance Marathon is larger than ever.

And its growth in size and donations mirrors a nationwide trend in Dance Marathon participation.

At least five universities across the country said their respective Dance Marathon organizations have become a larger presence on their campuses over the last few years.

The UI has been involved with Dance Marathon for 16 years and has raised more than $8.6 million. While the UI and Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., are recognized for having two of the largest Dance Marathon organizations nationwide, Penn State’s “THON” remains at the top.

“Associations adopt a family to create a relationship,” said Jony Rommel, the head of THON public relations. “Kids are the inspiration.”

THON, Penn State’s 46-hour Dance Marathon, is the world’s largest student-run philanthropic organization. With more than 15,000 student volunteers and 730 dancers this year, THON has been able to raise more than $69 million in slightly more than three decades.

The group donates funds to the Four Diamonds Fund at the Penn State Children’s Hospital to ensure patients with pediatric cancer “never see a medical bill,” Rommel said.

“It’s all about being there for the Four Diamond Families and making them feel welcome,” she said.

Penn State founded Dance Marathon in 1973, and universities continue to join the national fundraiser for Children’s Miracle Network today.

The University of Missouri joined Dance Marathon four years ago. While members said they are eager to grow, they are still working to promote participation on campus by selling T-shirts and having a “flash mob” on campus.

“We’ve been trying to do things outside of the box to get people interested,” said Courtney Mergen, University of Missouri’s director of Dance Marathon.

In addition to sharing a passion “For The Kids,” the universities also learn from each other.

“We always share ideas with Iowa State University,” said Kyle-Dale Walters, the executive director of UI Dance Marathon.

The UI most recently adopted the idea of a “graduation ceremony” for children five years past free of cancer from ISU two years ago. This year, eight children will graduate during the dance at 2 p.m. Saturday.

ISU’s 15-hour event on Jan. 22 raised $264,290.14. In the past 14 years, it has raised more than $1.5 million.

Along with ISU and UI, seven other organizations raise funds for the UI Children’s Hospital including Augustana College, University of Northern Iowa, and Drake.

Kayla Hunefeld, general co-director of ISU’s Dance Marathon said getting to know the families can be the best part for the hundreds of volunteers across the state raising money for the children’s hospital.

“What really hooks the dancers is to get to spend time with the children who are getting the money that they worked so hard to raise,” she said.

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