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Adam Smeltz: At Penn State's THON, 'Online Donations Were Huge This Year'

on February 20, 2012 7:08 AM

A lot of the detailed fundraising numbers weren't immediately available Sunday afternoon, but Elaine Tanella said this much is clear:

The social-media age has been very good to THON.

In its 40th year, the Penn State Interfraternity Council/Panhellenic Dance Marathon raised nearly $10.7 million for pediatric-cancer treatment and research, organizers announced Sunday. That tops the 2011 total by more than $1 million.

Tanella, the THON overall chairwoman, said donations from individuals account for the largest chunk of the fundraising total. As social media have grown, she said, so, too, have THON's online donations.

"Online donations were huge this year," Tanella said at a post-THON press conference, her voice hoarse and eyelids heavy.

She said THON excelled "due to the effort of every single person. Every person makes an impact -- no matter how small or big. It's all impacting THON."

Tanella hastened to add: "This is what Penn State is about, and this is what the students of Penn State are about. ... This just shows the power of the student body and how inspired we are by The Four Diamonds Fund and all the families" helped by it.

The Four Diamonds Fund, the organization that THON supports, has now seen an all-time fundraising total of more than $88 million from the event.

More than 300 Four Diamonds families assisted by THON were registered to visit the marathon over the weekend, enlivening the Bryce Jordan Center arena floor.

In a difficult year for Penn State, Tanella said, THON has been a bright spot. "So I think people focused on it a lot this year."

In fact, attendance at the 46-hour event, which began at 6 p.m. Friday, struck new records over the weekend. While overall tallies were not available Sunday afternoon, organizers said the Jordan Center reached capacity by 8:30 or 9 a.m. Sunday.

It did so on Friday night, as well, as supporters poured into the facility. Never before has THON been so crowded on a Friday night, leaders said.

Also unavailable Sunday was an accounting of the THON contributions given in honor of the late Joe Paterno. (Paterno family members requested that memorial contributions in his honor be given either to Special Olympics Pennsylvania or to THON.)

But Tanella said she thinks the Paterno family request "raised a lot of awareness for THON."

Charles Millard, a Four Diamonds Fund co-founder, told reporters he was "floored" by the fundraising total. The student leaders "don't rest on their laurels," he said.

"They can't get any bigger than they were this year," Millard said. "They can get, perhaps, a higher bottom line. I don't know how. ... It's just amazing. And as (I've said), it's a world-class event in my mind."

Just more than 700 dancers -- 708, in fact -- participated in THON this year, though it was not announced Sunday afternoon how many finished the marathon.

Some 370 student organizations are involved in THON in one way or another. Organizers have estimated that roughly 15,000 Penn State students volunteer in some capacity to help the cause.

"Who wouldn't be awed by something like that?" Millard said of THON. " ... The growth over the 35 years that we (Four Diamonds and THON) have been married has really made The Four Diamonds Fund what it is. It basically provided the funds that enable us to do what we do."

So, how to celebrate THON's latest success Sunday night?

Sleep, Tanella told reporters.

"Shower, too," she said. "That's good."

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