Year’s worth of preparation, fundraising for Thon about to come to fruition

IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon participants perform the line dance during Thon last year. Organizers are putting the finishing touches on this year’s event, which begins Friday.
IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon participants perform the line dance during Thon last year. Organizers are putting the finishing touches on this year’s event, which begins Friday. CDT file photo

The Penn State I FC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon — otherwise known as Thon — is less than a week away, and organizers already have been ahead of the game in terms of organization, raising money and creating new initiatives.

One new effort is the “ Who Do You Dance For” social media and video campaign that allows participants to create their own story via the web for everyone’s viewing. Every Wednesday leading up to Thon, a new video was released.

Students Jess Steciw and Kristen Toole said they both dance for the kids and their families.

“We dance today for the fight knowing that one day we’ll dance in celebration of a cure,” Toole said.

Thon is a yearlong fundraising and awareness campaign for the fight against pediatric cancer, and it engages students and community members from across the commonwealth. Their efforts are highlighted by the annual 46-hour no-sleep and all-dance marathon in the Bryce Jordan Center.

Money raised goes to the Four Diamonds Fund through Penn State Hershey Medical Center to help children and families affected by pediatric cancer.

“Thon doesn’t set a fundraising goal every year,” said Dana Giacobello, Thon public relations director. “As an executive committee, our goal is to educate our volunteers on how to fundraise in safe and effective ways. Every dollar we raise for the Four Diamonds Fund is important.”

Thon raised $12.3 million last year, shattering the 2012 total of $10.7 million. Since 1977, Thon has raised more than $101 million, Giacobello said.

Similar to last year, Jay Paterno will be the keynote speaker, Giacobello said. Charles Millard, who with his wife, Irma, founded the Four Diamonds Fund, also will be in attendance, and Thon organizers also have reached out to new Penn State head football coach James Franklin.

“We have reached out to our university contacts to see if Coach Franklin would like to participate in any way,” Giacobello said. “We would love to have him there and think his family would have a great time, too.”


The last big event before Thon weekend is the Road to Thon Celebration, a formal dinner held at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel. Attendees include volunteers, donors and university supporters. Its goal is to thank everyone for their hard work leading up to Thon weekend, Giacobello said.

The other activities are mainly focused on preparing for the weekend event, Giacobello said.

“We need to make sure all of our volunteers are trained properly in areas such as security, operations, concessions and more,” Giacobello said. “At the same time, we are working to prepare dancers to stand for 46 hours in as many ways we possibly can.”

One group, Chi Omega sorority, will be missing out this year after the sorority was closed last week.

Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said organizations that participate in Thon must be recognized by the university.

“Since Chi Omega is no longer recognized by Penn State, they are unable to participate in Thon,” Powers said.

But any student is welcome to attend Thon to support the dancers and families, she added.

Thon has a multitude of events throughout the year. Most notable are the 5K in October and the Family Carnival in December, Giacobello said.

The 5K features a kids’ race for Four Diamonds children to participate in and provides an opportunity for their families to see the organizations they are respectively paired with.

The Family Carnival provides a similar opportunity, but on a more intimate scale, Giacobello said.

“While this year our 5K had more than 7,000 participants, the Family Carnival is set up in the White Building with about 500 people engaging the families in games and carnival activities,” Giacobello said.

“It provides a great prelude for and builds excitement for Thon weekend.”


Fundraising and awareness efforts are far from just a university initative. Several community organizations have found a way to give back.

More than 400 organizations and 3,400 internal volunteers raise money for Thon at the university, Giacobello said.

The first major kickoff to Thon is The Hope Express — a 135-mile run created to bridge the gap between the families at Hershey Medical Center and the dancers at Thon, and is a year-round fundraising event benefiting The Four Diamonds Fund.

So far, more than 40 runners are registered for the overnight run this year. The runners are expected to enter the BJC on Friday night just as the dance marathon kicks off.

The Fraser Street Deli donated $1 to Thon for every Kathleen Gormley sandwich that was purchased since the end of last year. The sandwich was named for Gormley, a 2013 Penn State graduate who was a member of the club swim team, Relay for Life and a Thon participant.

And the University Drive Car Wash held a fundraising event that started last month and will continue every Thursday until the end of February. Spokesman Brad Mitchell said the car wash will donate all money collected for any car wash service during every “Thon Thursday” in February.

“Thon is truly a yearlong effort,” Giacobello said. “While we have three canning seasons held in September, October and November, our volunteers also solicit funds by going canvassing and holding alternative fundraisers, such as bake sales or promotions at local eateries.”

Each organization also has its own Web page that can be used to collect donations throughout the year.


Thon organizers’ main focus is preparing for this weekend. They expect to begin setting up at the BJC as early at 4:45 a.m. Friday.

“Every committee has a different responsibility to prepare for Thon weekend,” Giacobello said.

For example, the Rules and Regulations Committee has been training the entire year on security and what to do in any given emergency situation. The Entertainment Committee is working to finalize all acts that will occur on the stage, on the floor and in the crowd to make sure everyone is as engaged as possible throughout the 46 hours. Similarly, the Family Relations Committee is preparing events for the more than 300 Four Diamonds families that will be in attendance.

Planning for Thon weekend 2015 also has started, Giacobello said.

“When making decisions, we always strive that they are sustainable and leaving a solid foundation for the next year’s executive committee to work from,” Giacobello said.

More detailed planning begins once the next year’s executive committee is chosen — usually by early spring.

“Thon is unique in that it is able to bring together Penn State students, university contacts and community members all for one cause,” Giacobello said. “It gives the community and university the opportunity to work together to make a child and his or her family undergoing pediatric cancer treatment a haven away from the hospital, chemo and tests.”