Penn State

Thon families, volunteers bond over weekend of activities

Penn State student Marissa Marino makes a clay snowman with Four Diamonds child Noah Benner, 10, during the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon family carnival on Sunday at the Intramural Building.
Penn State student Marissa Marino makes a clay snowman with Four Diamonds child Noah Benner, 10, during the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon family carnival on Sunday at the Intramural Building. adrey@centredaily.com

Some Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon volunteers carry around color-coded calendars, but it’s doubtful any of them had building gingerbread houses on their agenda.

That’s what happened in a Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel suite, though, with 25 Thon public relations captains and their pen pal, the Roslevege family. The icing-filled Saturday evening was not far away from where about 100 more Four Diamonds families enjoyed several Thon events over the weekend.

The volunteers and kids will tell you, however, that it’s not the events that mean the most to them, but the unseen moments in between.

So, sure, Thon weekend is two months away, but student volunteers got the party started early for the kids. The outings tipped off Saturday at the Penn State men’s basketball game and ended Sunday at the Thon Family Carnival inside the Intramural Building.

“It worked out perfectly that families could come and spend the whole weekend doing Thon events, so yesterday with Thon Hoops, Thon Hockey after that and then the carnival today,” Thon spokeswoman Haley Staub said. “It’s been weekend full of Thon spirit.”

Thon special events captains Max Vido and Emily Caras coordinated the weekend, brainstorming ideas including a Thon child handprint mural that will be hung at Thon.

It was about at that time that we really wanted to start doing things to thank that students for all that they do.

Melissa Roslevege

Vido and Caras described it as a more intimate setting for families and volunteers than other events.

“We’re always getting new families, so this is a nice chance to give them a preview of what Thon weekend will be like,” Caras said. “It’s smaller, too, and not open to the public to give families an opportunity to bond with each other before Thon weekend, which is a lot more overwhelming.”

Layla Brian tossed T-shirts to fans at the basketball game, played games at the carnival and ran through a human tunnel.

The weekend was also an opening to do things away from the public eye. It was a chance for the 10-year old, the daughter of a Four Diamonds child, to do her favorite thing outside of Thon’s organized parties.

“I visited my sisters at (Pi Beta Phi) this morning,” she said.

It was an also opportunity for public relations captains to hang out with the Roslevege family in the Penn Stater and for the family to give back to them.

Having those casual, laid-back opportunities with families reminds us why we’re doing this. Those are going to be our best memories.

Haley Staub, Thon spokeswoman

Chris Roslevege, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1983, became a Four Diamonds child and survived the disease after six months of chemotherapy and radiation. He and his wife, Melissa, a Four Diamonds nurse specialist at Penn State Hershey, take their children — Hope, 5 and Matty, 8 — to as many Thon events as they can.

“About three years ago, one of the family relations people reached out to us, and we came and visited before that, but we really hadn’t done many of the family activities at that point,” Melissa Roslevege said. “That’s when we really started to learn about what is behind the scenes. It was at about that time that we really wanted to start doing things to thank the students for all that they do.”

That usually comes in the form of hosting get-togethers, which meant a Christmas dinner party for public relations captains Saturday.

“We’ve seen how all of his hospital bills have been paid for, and I’ve seen everyday how the money they raise is used and how tirelessly they work year-round,” Melissa Roslevege said. “So, we want to pay it forward as much as we can.”

It’s was also a window for volunteers to get away from their scheduled-down-to-the-minute lives.

“I think when I look back on this weekend it’ll be the night I’ll remember the most, going to the hotel and having fun with them and doing things like building gingerbread houses,” Staub said. “That’s what Thon is really about. Having those casual, laid-back opportunities with families reminds us why we’re doing this. Those are going to be our best memories.”

Shawn Annarelli: 814-235-3928, @Shawn_Annarelli

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