THON Weekend went virtual for the first time in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but a change in format didn’t stop Penn State’s student-run philanthropy from raising millions of dollars to support pediatric cancer patients and their families.
The culmination of year-round fundraising efforts, this year’s 46-hour dance marathon concluded at 4 p.m. Sunday with the reveal that THON 2021 raised $10,638,078.62 for the Four Diamonds at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital.
Since 1977, THON, the world’s largest student-run philanthropy, has raised more than $196 million for the Four Diamonds to provide financial support for pediatric cancer patients and their families as well as facilities and research. Because of Four Diamonds and THON, no pediatric cancer patient family at Penn State Hershey receives a medical bill.
Though a small crew of volunteers were in the Bryce Jordan Center for events from the stage, THON 2021’s 592 official dancers, as well as volunteers, supporters and Four Diamonds families took part in the event from home through a weekend-long livestream produced by Penn State students.
Before popular cover band Go Go Gadjet closed out the final hour ahead of the big reveal, Four Diamonds share stories of heartbreak and inspiration during the emotional Family Hour.
“It’s just crazy how THON and THON students have worked with us even through this COVID time,” said Heather Dougherty, whose daughter Hailey was diagnosed with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia and is in remission.
“THON doesn’t live in a building,” said Ashley Akright, a former THON volunteer whose brother Nicholas was a Four Diamonds child and died in 2004. “Instead of seeing this year as something that’s making THON less intimate or less impactful, use it as an opportunity that we can reach more people.”
Those families, after all, are what THON is all about, and why the organization persevered through the challenges of the pandemic throughout the past year to raise funds, deliver emotional support and pivot to a fully virtual event.
“This is just an incredible feeling knowing that regardless of the fact that there might be a pandemic and everything else that’s happening in the world right now, we are still managing to support families and spread awareness of what we’re doing and also raise funds for these families as well as research,” Penn State senior and THON public relations director Sam Koon said on Friday.
“Every year we start at zero dollars and we move up from there. This year, whatever the total may be, it’s a mark of success for what we’ve accomplished this year. We’re in a world where people are struggling with different kinds of things than we usually have. Regardless of what the total is, supporting families… is our first priority and we will do everything we can to make sure these families feel supported through funding, through emotional support and also just continuing to grow and expand the THON community as a whole.”