Locals prep for Penn State’s THON weekend

First Posted: 2/19/2015

Forty-six hours. No sitting. No sleeping. Just dancing.

The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, better know as THON, kicks off today and runs through Sunday at the Bryce Jordan Center in University Park.

Throughout the year, students participate in THON activities to raise funds for the Four Diamonds fund at the Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital. The dance marathon gives children and their families a chance to forget about their diagnosis.

THON is known for being the largest student-run philanthropy in the world. The yearlong efforts of students culminate with a 46-hour no-sitting, no-sleeping dance marathon known as THON Weekend.

Last year, THON raised a record-breaking $13.34 million and was able to donate 96 percent of funds raised directly to Four Diamonds.

Kaitlyn Benczkowski, a 2013 graduate of Coughlin High School, is a sophomore at Penn State Wilkes-Barre. She and Ryan McDermott, a student from Stroudsburg, were selected to represent the Wilkes-Barre campus at THON. The marathon will have 708 student dancers hit the floor at the Bryce Jordan Center.

Benczkowski is the family relations chairperson at the Wilkes-Barre campus. Throughout the year, she keeps in contact with several families benefiting from the Four Diamonds.

This weekend will be an experience for her.

“I definitely can’t wait for it to be here already,” she said. “It’s been a month-long process to get ready.”

Throughout the year, organizations across the state and country make contributions to THON. Students from the Penn State campuses set up canning drives, as well. At the end of the weekend, the fundraising total is revealed.

Since THON’s inception in 1973, the donation total has hit $114 million.

“I’m looking forward to seeing everyone’s reaction down there,” Benczkowski said. “It really opens your eyes to what Penn State really is and what Penn State is all about.”

Sara Keilbasa, a Penn State senior and 2011 graduate of Pittston Area, was selected to dance for the first time.

Her school organization, the National Speech Language Hearing Organization, is allotted three dancers each year. Students wanting to dance must prepare a speech to be selected. Keilbasa said she’s been involved with THON since she was a freshman and always attended the event as a spectator.

“I’m excited and a little nervous at the same time,” she said. “I’m not really sure what to expect.”

But for 46 hours, she can expect one thing — to be on her feet.

For the past several months, Keilbasa said, she’s been trying to hit the gym regularly to get herself ready for the extenuating time on her feet. Getting lots of sleep is also helpful, she said.

Through her time with THON, Keilbasa has been able to meet two families that benefit from the Four Diamonds Fund. One girl has been in remission for a few years, while the other, a 4-year-old, just ended her treatment in January.

“It’s been really cool to be a part of these families’ lives,” Keilbasa said. “To get to know the entire family and all their siblings, it was really nice.”

Throughout the weekend, events such as pep rallies featuring Penn State student-athletes and fashion shows featuring Four Diamonds children keep the dancers on their feet and their mind off everything else.

Penn State football coach James Franklin will speak at 1 p.m. on Sunday. Several bands and a DJ will provide music throughout the weekend.

The line dance, which is newly created every year to represent events and significant happenings, will take place almost every hour. It involves everyone at the Bryce Jordan Center joining in on the dance and incorporates stretches and dance moves to keep dancers moving and limber.

During the final four hours of the event, a recognition of all the families battling childhood cancer is observed, including family speeches. In the final seconds, the fundraising total is revealed for the year.

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