The Penn State Dance Marathon has become nationally and internationally recognized as the largest student-run philanthropy in the world with over 16,500 student volunteers and over $150 million dollars raised since its inception in 1973.
While the primary goal — to raise money to fight pediatric cancer — remains fixed, there is always a new theme, new events, new captains and, of course, a new executive director to look forward to each year.
Now that THON’s “Shape the Moment” theme is revealed, directors, captains and committee members are in line, VALLEY sat down to interview THON 2019 Executive Director Kelly McCready to get a little inside scoop about herself and her ties with THON.
What does the ED do?
As THON 2018 wrapped up, the organization immediately prepared to select its executive director for 2019.
About a month following THON 2018, McCready knew what her position would be for the following year’s event. In her role, she oversees the entire executive committee and ties together all of the ins and outs of each of the 16 executive directors’ individual roles. Another very important responsibility for the executive director is maintaining relationships with Four Diamond families, people out of the Hershey Medical Center and the donors, both new and old.
Above all, McCready strives to spread THON’s message in efforts to cultivate an impactful community that strives to eliminate pediatric cancer.
This busy and coveted role is often accompanied by long 13-hour work days with meeting after meeting for the highly anticipated event. McCready and her busy schedule are a testament to how much work goes on behind the scenes day in and day out to make this philanthropy as successful as it has been.
“It is a very large time commitment, but I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else,” McCready says.
McCready has a huge support system of the previous executive directors, like Andrew Smith, her immediate predecessor, that help and encourage her in her role. McCready and Smith speak often and continue to use one another as a point of contact for assistance in THON.
Get to Know Kelly
McCready is a senior human development and family studies major from Bethlehem, Pa. She is one of three siblings — she has an older brother and a twin sister, Ally, who also attends Penn State.
For her freshman year at Penn State, McCready was a Dancer Relations committee member, followed by her sophomore year where McCready was an Alumni Engagement captain in charge of alumni group fundraising.
Come junior year of college, McCready played an honorable role on the Executive Committee as the Alumni Engagement director. This position serves McCready well as her role now so heavily involves engaging and cultivating relationships with the entire THON community.
When she’s not behind the books, or in a THON-related meeting, McCready is doing her absolute best to make time for her friends and family, which she says is a very important aspect in her life.
She loves trying out different coffee shops to get some school work done with her twin sister, and her favorite State College eatery is Cozy Thai.
McCready’s Passion for THON
As a senior of her Bethlehem, Pa. high school, McCready had the opportunity to visit Penn State’s THON in 2015. McCready says this experience is where her understanding and passion for the philanthropy ignited. A close family-friend of hers had a son at Penn State who had been diagnosed with cancer. When the family attended THON in support of their son, they brought Kelly along.
Though McCready’s initial sights were not set on Penn State for college, THON managed to change her mind.
Throughout high school, McCready participated in her own school’s mini-THON events — just a simple foreshadow to what she would be doing four or five years later.
“What made me so excited about Penn State was THON.”
Through a gradual build up over her four years here, McCready knew she wanted to do absolutely everything she could with THON.
“I absolutely did not come in here expecting to be executive director,” McCready says. “If someone told me that, I would be absolutely shocked … but every time I’ve been in a role here within THON, I’ve always just wanted to do more.”
McCready is very passionate about creating an inclusive and impactful community that collectively maintains the same passion and goal in mind. She wants THON to create memorable experiences for everyone — the kids, the student volunteers, the Four Diamond families, everyone.
“My visions, my ideas, and how I wanted to inspire the community … I felt confident that I could take that next step.”