The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon has a partner in kids — about 70,000 of them.
They come from middle and high schools in five states to participate in mini-Thons.
They also make a big impact. The 235 schools with mini-Thons raised a combined $5.5 million in the 2015-16 school year to donate to Four Diamonds, which assists children with cancer at Penn State Children’s Hospital.
That’s only about $4.2 million less than the $9.7 million Penn State’s Thon raised last year.
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“It’s amazing seeing what the mini-Thons can do,” Thon spokeswoman Haley Staub said. “It’s all about finding a cure. We want Thon to be bigger and better. Obviously anyone that takes the idea and does it in their own school and community is a good thing.”
Staub was a volunteer for Spring Grove Middle School’s mini-Thon before attending Penn State.
It was her introduction to philanthropy, a lesson that taught her “what it means to give back to something that’s a lot bigger than me.”
“It also stems from personal experience. My aunt had ovarian cancer,” she said. “That gives you additional motivation to do something when you know someone with cancer. It’s a cause dear to my heart.”
She said discovering a cure isn’t a one-group effort — mini-Thons and other universities with similar philanthropies are needed to find a cure.
That’s where kids and teenagers like Carene Olsson, a 14-year- old State College Area High School ninth-grader, step up.
“I think I got involved first because my sister’s friend enjoyed it, and I got more involved because I really wanted to make a difference and help people,” Olsson said. “It means a lot when you get to know people that have cancer and become friends with them.”
Two of Olsson’s classmates benefit from the efforts of mini-Thons like the one at State High, which has raised more than $250,000 since its inception in 2009.
“I think when you know someone who has cancer it helps everyone realize how important this is,” Olsson said. “That affects you, because you realize it could happen to anyone so we have to help.”