UNIVERSITY PARK — Volunteers are gearing up to make the 41st annual Thon another success.
Thon is billed as the country’s longest dance marathon and largest student-run philanthropy in the world.
The 46-hour Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon raises money and awareness for pediatric cancer. Last year, Thon participants raised more than $10 million for the Four Diamonds Fund.
On Thursday morning, volunteers were up early loading equipment into five moving trucks transporting equipment to the Bryce Jordan Center.
Student volunteers said it’s a long process getting things ready for the weekend but worth it in the end.
“We’re just taking murals and signs and other supplies and loading them up. This stuff needs to get there and be set up before it starts,” said Penn State junior Lucas Dozzi. “You’re up early and working hard, but it’s kind of fun and know it’s for a good cause.”
On Thursday night, the Hope Express team started their marathon to kick things off. The Hope Express is a 24-hour, 135-mile fundraising run to raise awareness for the Four Diamonds Fund while bridging the gap between the families of pediatric cancer patients at Hershey Medical Center and the dancers at Thon. The race starts at Hershey Medical Center and ends at the Jordan Center in several heats throughout the night and Friday. They are expected to race into Thon at about 6 p.m.
Dozzi said this is his third year volunteering with Thon and is part of the OPPerations Committee, whose mission is to create and maintain a safe and healthy environment for the Four Diamonds families and Thon volunteers at all pre-Thon events and Thon weekend.
OPP Chairwoman Michelle Gettle, a Penn State senior, said the OPPerations committee plans and prepares for a year of events culminating with Thon weekend.
“I’ve been doing this for five years, and it all comes back to the mission of raising money and spreading awareness that’s so valuable to cancer families,” Gettle said.
Supplies stored, loaded and shipped to the BJC included carnival games like Plinko and Skeeball machines, mail both dancers and kids will get during “mail call,” social tables, mural supplies and event props, along with pads that line the BJC dance floor for dancers and other necessities like boxes of paper towels and garbage bags.
Communications Chairwoman Jenn Adams said Thon has raised more than $88 million to date. All money raised goes toward the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Medical Center to assist families of children being treated for cancer, and research programs. Thon has been partnered with the Four Diamonds Fund since 1977.
Adams said volunteers spent the past year working on making this weekend successful.
“Thon is a yearlong event, and we started to plan this weekend last March,” she said. “A Thon committee was chosen and held meetings frequently to get ready.”
Thon also holds other annual events that include a Thon 5K in October, a family carnival in December and a benefit concert to spread awareness of Thon and its mission to conquer pediatric cancer by providing emotional and financial support to the children, families, researchers, and staff of the Four Diamonds Fund.
This week, Thon teamed up with the American Red Cross for the 12th year. The Red Cross released a statement that said the organization would make a $4 donation to the Four Diamonds Fund this year for each blood donor.
The blood drive lasted all week and will hold its last blood drives today at the Nittany Lion Inn from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday at IM Building 1 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. where donors will also have the chance to sign up for the Delete Blood Cancer’s Bone Marrow registry.
Thon was organized in 1973 by a group of Penn State students as a way to give back to the community. Now, Adams said there are approximately 15,000 student volunteers, 300 captains and committee members who help organize the event, and more than 500 student organizations and special interest groups that help raise money for Thon.
This year, Adams said Thon will start 4 p.m. Friday with a pep rally featuring Penn State athletic teams and will lead into mail calls — a Thon activity where the 710 student dancers will receive letters and packages from friends, family, and supporters to inspire and motivate dancers to continue fighting for cancer kids — and end 4 p.m. Sunday with the final four hours with a variety show and the total money raised.
Special guests include Pat Chambers and Bill O’Brien.
“We never go into this with a fundraising goal,” Adams said. “We just know any money raised is a dollar more that goes toward a good cause and makes everyone proud of the word we’re spreading.”
Britney Milazzo can be reached at 231-4648. Follow her on Twitter @brmilazzo.