DUNMORE, Pa. – Like most everything else that has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, THON Weekend will take on a whole new form this year for its participants, among them the four Penn State Scranton students selected to take part in the festivities.
Senior Harshil Patel, junior Holly Oppelt, and sophomores Olivia Maikranz and Ella Maquito have been chosen to serve as the campus’ dancers for the 2021 Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon (THON), which will take place virtually from 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 19, to 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 21.
As always, THON, the world’s largest student-run philanthropy, will raise money for Four Diamonds to fund pediatric cancer research and support children and families fighting childhood cancer. Since its inception in 1973, THON has raised more than $180 million.
Donations to the campus THON team can be made now through the weekend at: https://donate.thon.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.event&eventID=2296. Once again, the campus’ THON child sponsor is Arelis Rodriguez.
Themed “Rise and Unify,” this year’s THON has been modified to protect the safety of all participants. There will be no in-person component, and all dancers will individually celebrate THON from their own homes rather than at its usual location, University Park’s Bryce Jordan Center. In addition, dancers will be asked to rest between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. both nights of the 46-hour event.
THON supporters, meanwhile, will be able to follow the dancers’ progress all weekend at https://thon.org/livestream. Student-run production team 46LIVE will be in charge of the livestream.
Despite the remote set-up, many of the usual THON hallmarks will remain in place, among them the line dances, Kids Mail Call, pep rally, “THON Idol,” and talent and fashion shows featuring Four Diamonds children.
The weekend will also include the ever-poignant Family Hour, during which Four Diamonds families share personal stories of their battles with childhood cancer, and “Celebration of Life” video, which memorializes children cancer patients who passed away.
Despite the virtual format, Patel said it’s still a great honor to take part in THON.
“I am very excited to be a dancer and represent the Scranton campus,” said Patel, an information sciences and technology (IST) major and current president of the campus Student Government Association (SGA).
“It is a little disappointing that we can't do the traditional THON at Bryce Jordan Center, but it’s still a special feeling because you will go down in history as a THON dancer. I wanted to be a dancer for the last two years, and when I got the opportunity this year it was just an amazing feeling.”
“I feel very honored to be chosen as a dancer, as I will be marking history representing my campus as a THON dancer,” added Maquito, an IST major. “This was definitely a goal of mine for some time, but I never expected to do THON virtually amid the pandemic.”
The campus will hold a small, socially distanced THON kickoff ceremony for the student dancers Friday evening in The View Café. From there, the dancers will spend the rest of the weekend dancing at their homes while using Zoom and Facetime to regularly check in on and motivate each other. And the campus’ student social media accounts will be updated frequently.
“Although we will not be in person, the students are grateful for the opportunity to raise money for pediatric cancer,” said Student Activities Coordinator Julie Gilpatrick, who serves as THON co-advisor with Assistant Director of Student Services and Engagement Matt Nied. “This will be a THON experience for the Penn State history books, and we encourage everyone to participate and cheer our dancers on.”
As always, the student dancers were chosen based on their involvement and fundraising within the campus THON chapter. Not surprisingly, fundraising has been a challenge this year due to the pandemic, but the students have been able to host a few events, including a virtual bingo and a collaboration between THON and SGA on a pre-Thanksgiving food order fundraiser done through Schiff’s Food Service.
“Our fundraising goal has no limit and we just want to raise as much money as we possibly can... For the Kids!” said Maikranz, a nursing major.
Maikranz said she’s wanted to dance at THON since attending the event during her freshman year.
“Seeing the amazing impact THON makes on Four Diamonds families makes someone only want to get more involved,” she said. “Although it may seem disappointing to not be able to have the full THON experience in the traditional sense, it is still a great honor and shows how dedicated and committed to THON we really are. I think virtual THON will arguably be one of the most creative and fun-filled THONs yet.”
“Despite not being able to dance in person, it’s still a big honor to be representing our organization and campus this year at THON,” added Oppelt, a biology major. “Being a dancer is not only a great way to represent our organization and campus, but it also shows that there’s hope for a cure. Becoming a THON dancer was a goal of mine since freshman year and I couldn’t be happier to be chosen this year. Everything we do is For the Kids!”
For more information on THON Weekend, visit https://thon.org/virtual-thon-weekend.