One voice is a mere whisper. But when millions of voices unite, their accumulated power becomes a roar.
For one weekend every February, you can hear that roar at Pennsylvania State University’s Bryce Jordan Center. What you hear won’t be our Nittany Lions on a game day, but the roar of 40,000 students gathered at the annual Penn State Dance Marathon to show their support in the fight against childhood cancer.
Since 1977, Penn State students have organized THON Weekend, a 46-hour no-sleeping, no-sitting dance marathon that raises funds for its sole beneficiary, Four Diamonds at Penn State Children’s Hospital, to support children and families affected by this life-altering disease. To date, THON has raised more than $136 million for Four Diamonds, and helped more than 3,400 courageous children and families. In addition to the emotional support we provide to these families, our financial contributions contribute greatly to the ability of Four Diamonds to cover 100% of the medical bill costs where insurance leaves off, as well as all other treatment-related expenses. The millions of dollars we raise also go to support research that otherwise would not be funded; pediatric cancer remains one of the most underfunded areas of cancer research.
Millennials are often stereotyped as “entitled” and “selfish,” but I’m proud to be part of a generation taking a stand for something greater than ourselves – to give kids a chance to grow up and chase their dreams. We are not only defying stereotypes, but redefining philanthropy.
Not only are we the largest generation, but we share an intense passion and the potential to make a powerful difference when united together under one cause. At Penn State, where I am a junior, there is no shortage of generosity. In fact, THON is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world. To make the Penn State Dance Marathon happen every year, more than 15,000 student volunteers dedicate themselves to a year-round fundraising and awareness campaign that culminates with THON Weekend every February.
Cancer is currently the number one cause of death by disease for children in the United States – more than asthma, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, and pediatric AIDS combined. But we are working every day to change that. I’ve been able to watch kids with cancer beat their diagnosis, a chance they may otherwise not have had it if it weren’t for this organization.
Despite not having much money to spare, we give what we can to this organization’s fundraising efforts. And last year alone, our efforts totaled more than $9 million. If there is one thing we have even less of than money, it’s time, yet I know students who give up an average of 15 hours per week to volunteer for this cause. In fact, across this year’s seven-month fundraising window, the 15,000 students who volunteer for this organization will give up more than 5 million hours of their own time. More than 350 student organizations participate in THON, including fraternities, sororities, clubs, and even organizations formed for the sole purpose of participating in THON. More than 700 students are then selected to participate in THON as dancers on behalf of their respective organizations.
Because of the college students that have come before us, THON has also developed a global reach that continues to grow. Our 75,000 Facebook followers span 45 countries and 44 languages, and in just the last year, our Instagram following has grown exponentially from 6,600 to 26,200.
Why do we do it? Because we understand the value of a dollar and what our collective resources can do. Beyond the value of a dollar, we understand the value of something greater: our time on this earth. We choose to give our money to those whose time on this earth may be running out before it should. We would rather give up all of these things, if it means that one day no parent ever has to hear the words, “your child has cancer.”
Someday, the roar you hear won’t just be the roar of a millennial generation coming into its own. It will be the roar that lives within the soul of every child when we have defeated childhood cancer once and for all.
Haley Staub is a current junior at Penn State University studying Public Relations with dual minors in Business and Education Policy Studies. Haley first attended the Penn State Dance Marathon in 2010 when she served as the Finance Director for her middle school’s mini-THON and hasn’t missed a year since. This year, she is serving as the THON 2017 Lead Media Relations Captain on the Public Relations Committee.