By Heather Cass, Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend
From left, Behrend THON dancers Tyler Malush, Morgan Shaw, and Matt Hammel.
Long before he was a college student, Jack Walker, executive director of the Behrend THON club, was committed to Penn State’s largest student-run philanthropic event, a dance marathon event benefitting children and families impacted by childhood cancer.
“I became involved with THON in my sophomore year of high school when I became the head of my high school’s ‘mini THON,’” said the Pittsburgh native and junior dual major in Political Science and Psychology. “It was really life changing. When I came to Behrend, I made a promise to myself to give everything I have to THON and make Behrend one of the best supporters of the event.”
He succeeded. Under Walker’s leadership, this year the club raised the highest amount—$57,155.67—in Behrend’s THON history.
“It truly reflects the commitment and dedication of the students involved in helping to fight pediatric cancer,” said Dr. Ken Miller, senior director of administration and student affairs.
THON is held annually at Bryce Jordan Center at University Park; this year’s event was February 15-17. Behrend’s dancers were Morgan Shaw, Matt Hammel, and Tyler Malush. Forty fellow Behrend students, including Walker, attended the event to support and cheer the dancers.
The Behrend Blog caught up with Walker to learn more about THON:
How do you choose who dances at THON?
Ultimately, the decision is based on a students’ participation in THON over their entire time at Behrend as well as money raised. We have made strides in making the process more competitive in order to push our members to be the very best they can be.
Do you have a goal?
We always have a fundraising goal, but in a larger sense, our goal is to make Behrend one of the top Commonwealth Campuses. Earning a top slot comes with advantages that include the ability to have more dancers on the floor, which, in turn, motivates members to get more involved.
How long is the dance marathon?
Dancers must keep moving for forty-six hours straight. This means no sleeping and no standing still. It takes a toll on the human body, but the dancers say it helps them to connect with the families of pediatric cancer patients who truly know the definition of marathon suffering.
What about those who aren’t dancing?
My role and the role of other Behrend students who attended are to be in the stands to support our dancers. We created a banner and made giant photos of our dancers’ faces to cheer them when they were losing steam.
What is the atmosphere like there?
THON is a transcendent experience. I don’t think there’s anything like it in the world. The energy is electric and you can feel the love in the air when dancers look to the stands to see their supporters. The entire Bryce Jordan Center feels like a big huge family. THON dancers are paired with a family that they are dancing to support. We were fortunate that all three of our families were able to attend the event this year.
What’s the most memorable part of the event?
I would say the family hour. During this hour, we hear from families who are currently going through treatment or have lost a child to pediatric cancer. Then, they have a presentation that pays tribute to every THON child who has passed away. It’s moving and motivational because you want to do whatever you can to prevent more children from being added to that list.
What would people be surprised to know about THON?
It is 100 percent student-run, from the event planning to the finances. The entire organization is filled with likeminded passionate students who are committed to ending pediatric cancer.
How did the Behrend THON club raise so much this year?
Families, sponsors, and new members were generous. Our online giving platform and going door-to-door in the Erie community to collect donations are our two most successful fundraising strategies.
Why should people get involved with the Behrend THON club?
This past year, it feels as though our club has grown into a family. Choosing to spend your free time raising money for kids who are suffering from cancer speaks volumes about the type of person you are and we accept and truly appreciate any student who makes a decision to join the club. We value every participant and volunteer in our organization. In addition, it feels really great to do good things for other people.