In 1973, the inaugural Thon raised just more than $2,000. Four years later, Four Diamonds became its sole beneficiary. Since then, the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon has donated almost $150 million toward the effort to defeat childhood cancer.
In fiscal year 2017, thousands of Thon student volunteers helped to bring in $10,861,494.68. But how is that money actually spent?
Well, $10,227,225.57 went directly to Four Diamonds — that equates to 94.16 cents of every dollar that Thon raises.
“The fact that these students are so committed and make sacrifices throughout the entire year and all throughout Thon weekend is stunning and amazing,” said Suzanne Graney, Four Diamonds executive director.
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The money Thon raises that doesn’t go to Four Diamonds goes toward event management, including pre-Thon events and Thon weekend ($195,944.86); development, such as direct mailing campaigns, donor stewardship initiatives and printed Thon informational materials ($144,985.90); account balance ($89,886.81); and operations and administrative costs, including office equipment, postage and space usage ($203,451.54), according to a summary of 2017 fundraising on Thon’s website.
One of the best things about Thon is the impact it makes goes far beyond a financial total, Maddy Hughes, Thon media relations lead, said in an email.
“While we are thrilled to be able to raise the amount of money that we do, we are very proud of the emotional support we provide to families year-round, as well as the bonds students are able to make with Four Diamonds families,” Hughes said.
The check that Thon writes to Four Diamonds is “for the kids” — an idea that has become the event’s slogan — but it aims to benefit them in more ways than you might know.
Four Diamonds was created in 1972 by Charles and Irma Millard in honor of their son, Christopher, who died of cancer as a teenager. In 1977, it joined with Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.
As a fund within Penn State, Four Diamonds’ tax-exempt status is linked to the university’s status as an instrumentality of the state.
It receives the majority of its funding from Thon, but in fiscal year 2017, Four Diamonds also received $6,456,745.51 from Mini-Thon, $976,806.64 from special events/other gifts and $68,993.95 in honor/memorial gifts, according to its two-page 2017 financial summary.
Four Diamonds’ allocation of funds for use in fiscal year 2017 (received in fiscal year ’16) break down into four categories: patient care and family support, research, investment in research endowments and administrative expenses.
The administrative expenses accounted for $2,129,672.87, or 12 cents of every dollar donated. That money covers rent, computer equipment staffing, marketing items and fundraising expenses, Graney said.
“Part of what Thon has helped make possible for our hospital is they have helped us to become a world-class institution in delivering some of the best childhood cancer care in the United States,” Graney said.
U.S. News and World Report ranked Penn State Children’s Hospital No. 50 in the nation for pediatric cancer.
In fiscal year ’17, Four Diamonds put $3,496,267.35 toward patient care and family support.
About 500 families receive direct support from Four Diamonds each year, Graney said, with typically 100 new families and 400 families who are continuing their cancer treatment.
Eligibility is determined by three factors: that the patient diagnosed with cancer is younger than 22, lives in Pennsylvania and is receiving primary oncology care at Penn State Children’s Hospital, Graney said.
Medical bills not covered by insurance are paid in full by Four Diamonds, but “for the kids” goes beyond that.
Money is provided for pharmacy costs and things that insurance doesn’t cover, like experimental therapy that’s need as an “avenue of hope” for a patient who hasn’t responded to traditional therapy, Graney said.
Funding also goes toward specialists who are proven to help enhance the positive outcome for a child with cancer, a dedicated staff in social work, clinical nutrition, staff psychology and a pediatric oncology chaplain, she said.
It’s making sure all of those wraparound services are available to patients and family members who might be having trouble adjusting to the new reality, she said.
Because of Thon’s continued dedication, Graney said, Four Diamonds has been able to not only treat patients right then and there, but also to look for the cure.
In fiscal year ’17, Four Diamonds allocated $1,620,986.17 in research grants; $3,418,070.48 in research support; $4,950,500 in its Epigenetics Endowment; and $394,500 in its Millard Endowment.
The majority of researchers who are funded are located in Penn State’s College of Medicine, but there are opportunities for scientists and research staff members at other campuses to apply and work with the pediatric oncology research team, Graney said.
The Epigenetics Endowment allows for steady money to be available to researchers for operating costs, she said. The goal is to figure out whether researchers can manipulate certain genes to turn on and off cancer.
“Thon made it possible for us to start down the path of looking at how does cancer happen and why does it happen and what are all of the different ways that we need to study this to figure it out, to find new ways to treat cancer, find less severe side effects on those treatments and ultimately find a cure,” Graney said. “We would not have been able to do that without their very loyal and steady partnership with us and the massive amount of dollars that they have donated through Four Diamonds to benefit kids at our hospital, both today as they fight and the kids that may face this in the future.”