Thon beats record: Penn State students raise more than $13 million to fight pediatric cancer

mmorgan@centredaily.comFebruary 23, 2014 

— The IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon isn’t just exceeding its fundraising records each year, it’s shattering them.

Thon 2014 raised $13,343,517.33 to help fight pediatric cancer, surpassing the $12.4 million last year and the $10.69 million in 2012. This year, the student-run charity event benefiting the Four Diamonds Fund more than doubled its fundraising effort from 2008.

Executive Director Ryan Patrick said that the executive committee doesn’t meet each year to put together a strategy to beat the previous total, it just happens naturally.

“The effort of our volunteers increases every single year,” he said. “People are becoming more dedicated toward Thon, and that’s why we’re seeing such an increase in fundraising.”

It has now raised a total of more than $114 million for the Four Diamonds Fund since 1973.

And the fruits of that labor go directly to helping children with cancer.

The money first goes toward paying the medical costs that insurance companies don’t cover, and the remainder goes toward increasing medical service quality and cancer research, Four Diamonds Fund Director Suzanne Graney said.

While helping with a child’s medical bills and giving them great care is important, Graney said the money put toward research is what will help to cure pediatric cancer.

Right now there is an 80 percent survival rate, but that isn’t good enough, she said.

“We have to continue doing what we do until we have a 100 percent cure rate and the number of patients we lose to childhood cancer is zero,” she said.

She added that there are many reasons to celebrate the fundraising and advancements, but it feels like a personal loss when a child loses his or her battle with cancer.

With that ultimate goal in mind, Patrick said there is still much room to grow.

One goal of this year’s executive committee was to address some problems from past years and create a platform to fix them. One new practice that the group considers a success is the digital line management system.

The technology allows people to stay out of the cold without long lines forming around the Bryce Jordan Center and lets Thon workers alert visitors electronically when they are allowed to enter the building.

He said that system can be used in future years to streamline the process no matter how big the event eventually gets.

“We didn’t want to create a Band-Aid for the challenges,” he said. “We wanted to create a foundation that could lead us to solve them and make the event better for everyone.”

A few people watched the final four hours of Thon in Pegula Ice Arena, which was used for overflow when capacity was reached at the Jordan Center.

The arena offered those who wished to see the 46-hour event a place to watch on all four jumbo scoreboard screens, which were playing a live feed of Thon.

Kathy Lantz, whose daughter danced, said she went to Pegula to watch the last hours of Thon.

“What they do for the families, it’s so heart-wrenching,” she said. “And to know my daughter is giving back at her young age, it’s very emotional.”

Lantz said she was “not at all” surprised to see Thon’s 2014 record-breaking total of more than $13 million surpass the previous record set in 2013.

The philanthropy has grown significantly since its creation 41 years ago, she said, adding that she expects this growth to continue in the future.

“How could it not? It’s so contagious,” she said. “If you’re a part of group, you just pass this enthusiasm on. Of course it’s going to grow. It’s not going anywhere. As long as there’s cancer, it’s not going anywhere.”

Rick Murray also sat in Pegula to watch the end of Thon and watch his daughter finish dancing.

Like Lantz, he said he was not surprised to see the total had surpassed all other previous totals. The philanthropy continues to grow, he said, and as it does, the total will also continue to increase.

New Penn State football coach James Frankin stopped by the Jordan Center during the final four hours.

He said some people think Penn State is special because of its football stadium or basketball arena, but that events like Thon are really what makes the university special.

“What makes us special is the people, the people that understand we are part of something greater than ourselves,” he said.

And Four Diamonds Fund co-founder Charles Millard has been around for almost the entire special tradition.

The 86-year-old has been in attendance for 37 Thons and will continue coming as long as he can. Through the years, he has never ceased to be amazed with the event and the growth.

In the age of social media and with an effort to extend the fundraising around the globe, he said there is no ceiling for how high Thon’s fundraising can get. There is no other organization like it, he added.

“It’s amazing. This organization is one-of-a-kind in the world, and that’s impressive,” he said. “Forget the United States — it’s the world.”

Penn State journalism student Megan Henny contributed to this story.

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