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Penn State THON Achieves New High; Fundraising Increases Seen throughout

on February 21, 2011 7:49 AM

The annual Penn State Interfraternity Council/Panhellenic Dance Marathon finished at 4 p.m. Sunday with a dramatic number: $9,563,016.09.

That's how much money THON's 708 dancers and thousands of student organizers and volunteers raised in the past year.

The total sets a new record for THON, billed as the largest student-run philanthropy in the world. Last year, it raised nearly $7.84 million -- which was, at that point, a new record, too.

Proceeds benefit the Four Diamonds Fund, which supports pediatric-cancer research and treatment at Penn State's medical facilities. Some 140 Four Diamonds Fund-supported families were recognized Sunday afternoon on the THON stage, inside the Jordan Center, shortly before the 46-hour marathon concluded.

"Your support -- emotionally and financially -- has lifted so many burdens off my shoulders," said Nick Pantalone, 17, a cancer patient who benefits from the Four Diamonds Fund. He addressed a capacity crowd at the Jordan Center during the event's Family Hour.

"I can wake up in the morning, smell the fresh air and just enjoy life," Pantalone said. "I can focus on being me and doing what I have to do and getting this over and done with so I can move on. ... Together, we're one big team, one big family."

Earlier in the Family Hour, Four Diamonds Fund founder Charles Millard, 83, said that "I have never seen so much energy in THON as I am seeing this weekend."

"To be here to witness this is such a pleasure, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart," Millard said.

THON volunteers have raised nearly $80 million overall for the Four Diamonds Fund since 1977. (THON actually started in 1973, but its proceeds were designated for other causes in its initial years.)

At a post-event press conference, THON Overall Chairwoman Kirsten Kelly said organizers were "just thrilled" with this year's outcomes. She said THON saw increases in all areas of its fundraising work, which include corporate fundraising, an online contributions arm, merchandise sales and "canning" trips by student volunteers. Canning weekends allow students to fan out across the northeast U.S. and solicit contributions from passers-by in public places.

"I think we saw in (the Jordan Center) that there was just a large amount of energy the whole time," including an uptick in attendance by spectators, Kelly said. "This whole year, I think, we've felt the energy to a greater degree than we had in years past."

Asked to explain how THON volunteers earned such a dramatic increase in fundraising, especially in a tough economy, Kelly said a lot of hard work is the primary factor.

She said THON also benefited from good weather during canning weekends and strong student turnout for those events. Overall Public Relations Chairwoman Jony Rommel said THON found additional success in an expanded variety of alternative contribution methods, including online options, mailed solicitations and fundraisers held by individual organizations.

A donation-by-text-message push during THON weekend was successful, as well, Kelly said, though specific numbers weren't immediately available Sunday.

But she and Rommel were quick to emphasize that the fundraising figures aren't their only measure of success.

"The total isn't the only tangible reason" for THON, Kelly said. "It's the (Four Diamonds Fund) families' experience" and the difference that THON makes for them emotionally. Many fund-supported children form bonds with Penn State students and attend THON every year.

"I think there are so many ways we can measure success," Kelly said.

Likewise, Rommel said, "the total is amazing. But it's also great that we were able to provide a weekend for the families that gave them an escape" from dealing with the stresses of cancer.

"The bottom line is important," Millard said during the press conference. "But what's happening inside of you as an individual is something that is really good for a human being."

Nearly all 708 dancers finished the no-sitting, no-sleeping marathon, organizers said. It wasn't immediately clear late Sunday how many did not.

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