Representing various organizations on campus, thousands of students gathered in the field house from Saturday night to Sunday afternoon for an 18-hour long dance marathon organized by HuskyTHON – the event raised $716,394.58 for Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.
The night served as the apex for a year’s worth of student-run fundraisers by HuskyTHON, a student philanthropic group that also organized events Miracle Walk and ZombieTHON earlier in the school year. This year’s HuskyTHON raised over 25 percent more than last year’s, which totaled over $560,000.
Fifteen minutes into the second hour of the event, HuskyTHON vice president of communications Sarah Paduano said the event had been planned as early as last April. She also said that she was initially nervous about the organization reaching its $700,000 goal for the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center (CCMC) in the dance marathon.
However, Paduano, an eighth-semester journalism and political science major, said there was reason for students to show up and stay motivated to participate throughout the 18 hours.
“If you’re there for the initial first few hours of the night, you’ll understand how surreal and immense the energy around here is,” Paduano said. “Seeing the look on kid’s faces when they see what you’ve put together is the best motivator and feeling.”
According to the Miracle Dance Network’s donor drive page, the top fundraising dancer for the night was William Janetschek, who raised $12,730 by Sunday afternoon. Meanwhile, the highest amount of money raised by a team or student group was the Morale team, which brought in $65,604.
Fourth-semester accounting major Igor Lekontsev, brought in an exciting donation of $1,989 from pop star Taylor Swift on Saturday evening.
“I couldn’t have prepared for this two months ago,” Lekontsev said, mentioning how this was his first year working with HuskyTHON and that his longtime goal was to get in contact with Swift. This was before she surprised him by Facetiming him Saturday morning and telling him she was going to donate to HuskyTHON under his individual fundraising page.
Lekontsev added that although Swift’s donation clearly had a positive impact on him, its future impact on the CCMC was of greater importance and relevance for HuskyTHON’s fundraising efforts. The donation also gave widespread awareness to their organization and cause.
Since 1999, when the organization was created, HuskyTHON has grown to become the biggest student-led philanthropy effort in New England, raising over two million dollars during that timespan. HuskyTHON was also named the No. 11 top collegiate fundraiser across the nation by Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, according to NBC Connecticut.
Lucia Greene, a sixth-semester journalism and Spanish double major, said it was her second time attending the dance marathon while at UConn.
“I even brought my friends with me that hadn’t done it before,” Greene said, mentioning how she enjoyed seeing students from different organizations on campus meet each other in one night and coordinate for a charitable cause.
Along with the 18-hour dance marathon were other events throughout the night, including laser tag in the gym; an obstacle course; gladiator “joust” in a foam pit; a mechanical bull; Zumba sessions; performances from The Religion and UConn All-Stars; standing yoga and crowd-surfing among people in the audience.
For people who weren’t able to stay constantly dancing through the night, there was a “Morale Corner,” where “morale captains” would teach a dance to exhausted students and try to keep them energized throughout the night.
One of the captains, Hannah Reilly, a sixth-semester individualized major, summed it up when she said “FTK (for the kids) is our motto.”
“It’s a great cause and you have to think about why you’re doing it too,” Reilly said. “These kids are fighting every day - we’re fighting to show that we support them.”
Ultimately, Reilly said the goal of HuskyTHON is to show families of the children “spirit and love” in addition to their passion for helping them.
Lorraine Williams, mother of 10-year-old Shemar Williams, from West Haven, said she was excited to see the determination of students to help children like her son. Shemar has had scoliosis since he was three years old. She said the money raised through HuskyTHON not only went to support families of children within the hospitals, but also toward investments within the hospital and medical research.
Mentioning that her son’s latest surgery happened last November, Williams said she was inspired and grateful to know that she had the help and support of UConn students.
“Whatever we can do to give these kids a face will be great for them,” Williams added, mentioning that 2016’s HuskyTHON was not her first one and that her son loved the event every year.
Shemar said he loved HuskyTHON because in addition to having fun, he enjoyed meeting several people and gaining their support.
“It helps me and other kids build our confidence,” Shemar said. “It also helps us get what we need for surgery and better care.”