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Middle Schools Hold Mini-THON to Support Four Diamonds Fund

by on May 02, 2014 7:25 AM

Area middle school kids were rocking the night away Friday, while helping out a great cause at the same time.

Hundreds of students from Park Forest and Mount Nittany Middle School participated in the 6th annual "Mini-THON", an extension of the renowned Penn State Dance Marathon.

They turned Park Forest Middle School into a dance hall, complete with a DJ, flashing lights, and gyrating students who had all the right moves.

It's no secret that Penn State THON is the largest student philanthropic effort in the world, raising over one hundred million dollars to date for the Four Diamonds Fund.

Currently, more than 100 schools and 20,000 students participate in "Mini-THONs" across the state. To date, the program has raised more than $10 million to benefit families affected by pediatric cancer.

Since it started at Park Forest in 2009, the program has raised $140,000.

For Bella DiVirgilio, an 8th-grader at Park Forest, Penn State's THON is what got her and her friends excited about getting involved.

"I really like being where we are near Penn State," says DiVirgilio. "It kind of forces you to be involved in THON, because not only do we have a big THON, but everything around is so involved. I think that's what gets us all jumping up and helping."

Inside the Park Forest Middle School, it's not quite the 46-hour all-dancing, no-sitting marathon put on by the university down the road. Instead, kids danced from 7 p.m. to midnight, clad in bright colors, headbands, and festive knee socks.

However, you'll find a few similarities. There's upbeat music, food, families, and even a special line dance set to the oldies. Students say it took two months to learn the moves to the line dance.

Vinny Carrano, a Penn State senior and member of Common, one of Penn State's 29 special interest organizations, is no stranger to THON - both big and mini. He's been involved for 19 years, and even danced the whole grueling 46 hours in 2012. Nevertheless, he still finds himself impressed by the work of the students at both middle schools.

"I've been to a few mini-thons, and I think it's so awesome," says Carrano. "To see the kids out there dancing for a good cause is awesome."

With ten THON families present on Friday night, the students knew right away who the real superstars were. They might not be dancing until dawn, but the phrase "For the Kids" could still be heard echoing down the halls.

"We play a whole bunch of games, and get [the kids] involved, and make sure they're really comfortable," says DiVirgilio. "We make sure they're a part of this as much as we are."

Under the direction of Nanci Rommel, Holli Jo Warner and the Park Forest Middle School Student Council, the first "Mini-THON" began in 2009. Approximately 100 dancers raised over $13,000.

Dating back to the very first "Mini-THON", the number of dancers and donations has increased each year. In 2013, the event raised a record-high of $45 thousand.

All proceeds go to The Four Diamonds Fund at the Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital, helping families pay for cancer treatments and non-medical costs like food and travel expenses. Donations also support a medical team, child life specialists, and social workers who work closely with pediatric cancer patients.

Stephanie Smith, mother of a Four Diamonds child named Victoria, says she's excited to for her daughter to be involved as a dancer this year. Victoria, a student at Mount Nittany, celebrated her 12th birthday last Thursday and was decked out in bright colors for the event.

"Seeing all these middle school kids raising money for kids like Victoria is just amazing," says Smith. "This table was filled with a bunch of young ladies who came over and asked if they could join us. And they asked about Victoria, and were learning about the type of leukemia she had and everything."

Victoria was diagnosed with leukemia in December 2005. The next year, she became the first sponsored child in the history of Atlas, which is now the university's largest THON organization.

"It's great to see all the activities and events, and see the kids enthusiasm," Smith adds. "They all seem so excited. I can't wait to see how they hold up."

When it's all said and done and the placards reveal the grand total, students can take pride in knowing that they helped make someone's life better one (dance)move at a time.

Watch video of the Mini-THON below:


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C.J. Doon is a frequent contributor to Onward State and is a former intern. A Long Island native, Doon is studying print journalism at Penn State.
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