At 1 p.m. on Friday, February 17, just five hours before dancers were to stand for the 45th year in a row, the perimeter of the Bryce Jordan Center was deserted. Tutus, socks, colorful shirts or drawstring bags were not yet lined up outside the gates. No music was playing and no one was dancing. The dance floor was dark.
But inside the corridors and passageways of the BJC, excited anticipation powered each step of Committee Captains and members. Walkie-Talkies buzzed on the hips of Committee Captains as they whizzed through the hallways towards their next pre-THON task. Excitement was growing thick in the air as the clock ticked on. In these moments, the BJC encompassed the theme of THON 2017: Igniting Hope Within.
Over 16,000 Penn State volunteers raised funds, attended meetings and remained inspired for the kids, all while still balancing a rigorous Penn State curriculum—truly putting the “student” in “largest student-run philanthropy in the world.” Student volunteers have raised $137,657,890.66 since 1973 and the charitable tradition continues for yet another year.
At the pre-THON Press Conference, Public Relations Director Sam Sherlock, THON Executive Director Austin Sommerer, Founder of the Four Diamonds Fund Charles Mallard and Director of the Four Diamonds Fund Suzanne Graney weighed in on changes, successes and hopes for THON 2017.
“THON is a yearlong effort that leads up to this weekend, Sherlock says, “This year is special because it is THON’s 40th anniversary with the Four Diamonds Fund, our sole beneficiary.”
Charles Mallard, Founder of the Four Diamonds Fund, has memories of all 40 THONs. “The partnership hasn’t changed over the years, it’s just continued,” Mallard says, “[THON and the Four Diamonds] have had such a good relationship of the years, and I see no end in sight.”
Suzanne Graney, current Director of the Four Diamonds praised the work THON does for the Four Diamonds. “We have developed a deeper relationship with THON over the years,” Graney says. “Being able to build relationships with families, children and volunteers makes our relationship deep. Either of us would not exist without the other.”
Although nearly half of the student body at University Park volunteers for THON in some way, Mallard recalls a time when the Four Diamonds did not receive as much support. “Until we came up here and got involved with THON, we were struggling. I always feel like THON breathed life into the Four Diamonds.”
Indeed, celebrating life is exactly the goal of THON 2017. “The most important goal of this weekend is that kids get to come here and forget about cancer,” Sherlock says, “For a lot of families and children battling cancer, THON weekend really is the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Another important goal of the weekend is safety and crowd management. Sherlock says that the BJC gates are now equipped with metal detectors but no change is expected in regards to wait times. She says that the Rules and Regulations Committees have worked hard to make the check-in process smooth.
THON volunteers noticed many changes to fundraising techniques during the 2016-17 fundraising window as canning continued to be phased out. THON Executive Director Austin Sommerer sees stepping away from canning as largely a positive move.
“Canning was so important to THON for so long because everyone did it,” Sommerer says, “But now, with new fundraising techniques, we’re creating new relationships between donors and organizations.”
Sommerer cites the Club Cross Country team’s Miles for Smiles as a good example of how organizations can engage more specific demographics which makes fundraisers more successful. New online donating platforms were also explored this year and were found to be successful.
“It’s all a matter of thinking differently,” Sommerer says, “One thing I’ve preached since day one is to think outside the box, come up with new dreams and finds new ways to accomplish them.”
Mere hours remain until the BJC is filled to capacity with families, volunteers, spectators and of course, kids, all united in one fight against pediatric cancer. Although THON changed slightly this year with new fundraising techniques, the work and dedication of everyone involves remains as strong as ever.
“THON changes like life changes, but being able to observe it all from my view…it’s mind-boggling to be a part of this,” Mallard says.
Valley agrees. It truly is mind-boggling to finally have arrived at the weekend Penn Staters have worked hard all year for. Here’s to a weekend made possible by the culmination of individual efforts all for collective inspiration of hope in children battling cancer. Let’s all show what #CancerCannot.