By Sarah Steighner
NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. – The hard work and enthusiasm of Brooke Churma and Alex Pedder has led to them being the chosen dancers to represent Penn State New Kensington’s THON chapter for the annual THON weekend at University Park.
Believed to be one of the largest student run philanthropies worldwide, THON is an annual 46 hour dance marathon. The main goal of this fundraising event, and all of THON’s efforts in general, is to raise money for children with pediatric cancer. THON takes place this year at the Penn State University Park campus in the Bryce Jordan Center from Feb. 20-22. While the Bryce Jordan Center will be full of people rallying in support, “for the kids,” certain chapters of THON from different clubs and campuses are allowed a select number of “dancers” to represent their THON club on the dance floor.
To be a dancer, there are many qualifications that a THON member must meet. These qualifications state that a member must participate in at least 75 percent of the THON events and meetings. Furthermore, they must have raised $1,000 on their own for THON. Additionally, each candidate must be interviewed by select people on campus. These interviewers include staff and professors from around the campus, as well as alumni. After the board of interviewers review each candidate, they then select who they believe will best represent PSNK. This year’s members that qualified include Cassie Eckenrod, Kelsey Belitskus, Brooke Churma, Alex Pedder, and Zack Wolford. While each candidate has the chance to be chosen, there are only two spots available for the PSNK campus.
Chosen dancer, Alex Pedder is studying Mechanical Engineering in his sophomore year. He has been an active member of THON for a year and a half. He attended THON weekend last year for the first time and described it as “inspiring, moving, and incredible.”
Pedder explained the many reasons that he wanted to be a dancer, “I thought it would be an unforgettable opportunity to represent the New Kensington campus. I saw being a dancer as a challenge against myself.“
While participating in numerous fundraising efforts for THON this year, Pedder stated that another reason he wanted to be a dancer for THON was his past involvement in fundraisers that have helped raise money for cancer charities. These fundraisers included bowl-a-thons and competitive shooting matches. “Cancer and cancer fundraisers have impacted my life, and being a part of THON was just the next stepping stone as I continue my journey through life,” said Pedder.
Dancer Brooke Churma is a senior Communications major. Churma has been involved with THON for three years, including being a Moraler at University Park her junior year where her job was to take care of a dancer throughout the 2014 THON weekend.
Churma has wanted to dance in THON since her sophomore year. “I think it’s amazing that people can stand without sleep for 46 hours in order to raise money for such an amazing cause,” she said. “I want to be able to say that I was able to do that and now I finally have the opportunity to.”
One of Churma’s favorite things about THON was canning outside of store fronts to raise money. “I have always enjoyed canning,” she said. “I have met so many amazing people that stop and just want to talk to you and share a part of their life with you, whether it’s related to what you’re doing or not.”
THON advisor, Lauren Blum, shared her perspective on the qualified candidates. “They all dedicated a lot of time, effort and heart to becoming a dancer at PSNK,” Blum said. “Unfortunately, we can only pick two, but we are so excited about all the work everyone did and hope that some of these students who are returning will try to be dancers again next year!”
Blum disclosed that this year, PSNK’S THON goal was to beat last year’s total, which they have already accomplished. She said that, “Our students always strive to beat the highest campus total which was $52,000 and I am confident that one year soon we will be able to do it!”
While being chosen as a dancer for THON weekend is viewed as a privileged opportunity, it comes with great responsibility. THON dancers are expected to stay awake and on their feet for 46 hours. Attempting to stay healthy, motivated, and energetic will be one of the challenges each dancer faces.
“All of us are going to have to feed off of each other when it comes to energy and making it through the weekend,” said Churma. “Our supporters get to have sleep shifts, but I personally do not think that their job is any easier. We all have to help each other.”
Pedder added that another major goal is to remember those who have lost their battle with cancer while hoping that their memory lives on through some type of message to each person attending THON weekend.
Penn State New Kensington’s THON chapter holds many fundraisers each year. The three canning weekends, where THON members ask for donations outside of local businesses’, generated $12,000 alone. Canning weekends are typically the biggest form of fundraising for THON. Other fundraising efforts included a THON 5K at University Park and mailing out THONvelopes to people and businesses’ looking for an opportunity to donate directly. The annual Spaghetti Dinner, second annual Basket Bingo Bash, and third annual mini THON at Burrell High School were also held. In addition, PSNK held several fundraisers at Fun Fest in Harmarville.
A send off pot-luck dinner will be held at the Penn State New Kensington campus Feb. 17 at 6 p.m. in the Conference Center. While celebrating all fundraising efforts in preparation of THON weekend, the total amount raised from PSNK’s THON chapter this year will be unveiled.
Since THON was formed in 1977, the organization has raised over $114 million towards the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital. Last year, THON raised $13.34 million. This was a record breaking amount in the history of THON fundraising.