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It started as a dance marathon. It's now the largest student philanthropy organization worldwide

Words by Tess Becker

Dancing is fun, there's no denying it. And it gets even better when you’re dancing with a bunch of people trying to have a good time.

Add even more for people trying to do something for a good cause. That’s exactly the point of Penn State’s THON program.

The program itself started as a student philanthropy program 50 years ago when former IFC President Bill Lear proposed a dance marathon to raise money for local causes. 

Today, Penn State’s THON is the largest student-run philanthropy organization in the world. They work year-long with around 16,500 student volunteers to raise money for childhood cancer organization Four Diamonds at Penn State Health Children's Hospital.

Four Diamonds was founded with the express purpose of helping children and their families fight against childhood cancer. A large goal of THON isn’t to just raise money for Four Diamonds but to bring people together.

“We really focused on creating emotional connections between the families that we serve and the volunteers,” Penn State student and Executive Director, Lily Pevoto tells Smiley News. “That's where so many hours throughout the year go to support our mission, and then we also focus heavily on our fundraising."

Just last year THON had a record-breaking fundraising year and raised $13.7 million for Four Diamonds. Throughout its lifetime, THON has raised $203 million for Four Diamonds and has supported over 4800 families.

After 46 hours of no sleeping or sitting, THON dancers celebrate raising $13,756,374.50 after the THON 2022 final numbers were revealed. The money will go to the Four Diamonds Fund, which supports children battling pediatric cancer.

They aren’t limited to dances though, as a part of their year-long effort they hold a host of different events and fundraisers. 

“We have a 5k that will have 1000s of people in attendance,” Lily says. “We host a family carnival, which is a super special event where we're able to connect children and families and students for a really special day and have fun in the wintertime, and then of course, what most people are most familiar with is our 46-hour no sitting no sleeping dance marathon.”

That dance marathon is coming up... this weekend in fact.

“That event will have 1000s of students in attendance,” Lily says. “We have alumni, presidents, and lots of general supporters who come from all throughout the country and even the world to support THON and the 700 dancers who will be standing for all of those 46 hours.

“We're really excited to be able to highlight a lot of the great things that happen at Penn State so we'll have some planning of performing groups dance groups singing band.”

They even have brought on nationally-recognized performing artists.

“Last year, we were able to have two nationally recognized performers, Chelsea Cutler, and Bea Miller and we're excited to have two surprise secret performers this year as well,” Lily says.

Lily says that she’s particularly excited about this year’s THON dance marathon because there are going to be a lot more eyes on the event than in years past. "We're gonna have a lot of people see THON weekend for the very first time, which I know for me that was one of the most special moments being able to see just the event and the energy that everyone brings to it.”

Lily has been a part of the organization for five years and just loves the bonds that you get to form while being a part of it and seeing people grow.

“I just want to provide more children those special memories and hobbies and moments that all children deserve to have in their childhood,” Lily says.

Find out more and support Four Diamonds through their website.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Good Health and Wellbeing.

This article aligns with the following UN SDGs