Warwick grads dance at PSU’s THON

By on February 8, 2012

By: LAURIE KNOWLES CALLANAN Record Express Correspondent, Staff Writer

When the 39th annual Penn State THON is held Feb. 17-19 at the Bryce Jordan Center, four young women from Lititz will be among those participating in one of the biggest student-run fundraising events in the world.

The Penn State students who will be dancing in the 46-hour dance marathon include Kaitlyn Dussinger, who graduated from Warwick High School in 2008 and represents DITTO; Kaitlin Scicchitano, also of Warwick class of 2008 and representing DITTO; Lauren Sangrey, who graduated from Warwick in 2009 and represents the Penn State Dance Alliance; and Ashlee Garman, also of Warwick class of 2009 and representing Penn State Dance Alliance.

The Warwick grads will be among 15,000 student volunteers and 700 dancers who have raised more than $78 million to benefit The Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital.

A year-long effort to raise funds and awareness for the fight against pediatric cancer, THON is dedicated to making strides towards finding a cure for all childhood cancers. The big event is the THON, which is short for Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon. And students really do dance their hearts out to help younger kids with cancer.

"I knew about THON before I came to Penn State, and knew I wanted to be involved. I became president of Penn State Dance Alliance my sophomore year and decided to start a THON committee within our club," said Sangrey, who will graduate from Penn State in 2012 with a degree in secondary education for mathematics.

As she explains, THON is important because it raises money to help families who have children with pediatric cancer. The families get to spend time with their children without having to worry about some of their other expenses since THON covers it for them.

"A lot of the kids have said they look forward to THON more than Christmas morning. It also brings students together who care about the same cause. When you walk into the Bryce Jordan Center during THON weekend, you immediately feel all of the love, strength, determination and support. It’s incredible," said Sangrey.

The recent passing of Joe Paterno makes THON even more poignant to students like Sangrey, who said that when JoePa was diagnosed with lung cancer, it made students realize that "cancer is a horrible disease and it can affect anyone."

"I think it will be hard knowing that this is the first THON that JoePa won’t be here," said Sangrey. "In 2009 he came to speak and told the whole Bryce Jordan Center that he has never been more proud of us for what we do for these kids."

She described situations when Joe Paterno helped to fund children with cancer and that Paterno was a major contributor to the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State. She also recounted her own personal experiences of seeing the example set by Paterno for sportsmanship and values.

"I remember my freshman year, when there was a pep rally before my first game in the student section. He told us to not "boo" the opposing team, and I remember thinking how much I admire his values and the way he lived his life," said Sangrey. "JoePa is one in a million."

Garman shares many of the same memories with Sangrey. A senior set to graduate this year with a degree in elementary education and a minor in special education and deafness and hearing studies, Garman got involved in THON as a freshman.

"I was completely inspired by this event and knew I wanted to get even more involved," she said. "As a sophomore, I joined a rules and regulations committee and was responsible for the safety of spectators, dancers and families during THON weekend."

She also went on canister solicitation weekends, which involves collecting funds at intersections and storefronts. This year she was given the privilege to be one of the THON chairs for Penn State Dance Alliance. The position allows her to help plan and organize alternative fundraisers, inspire members of the organization and spread awareness of the fight against pediatric cancer.

"I have also received the opportunity to be a dancer in the 46-hour, no sitting, no sleeping dance marathon on Feb. 17. I am extremely excited for this experience and to represent my dance club, Penn State Dance Alliance," she added.

Garman admits it won’t be easy. But it’s worth it.

As she points out, THON is important because it gives children battling pediatric cancer the opportunity to attend various programs and events throughout the year that allows them to experience life just like other children.

The Four Diamonds Fund provides families with financial support, while THON gives children the chance to forget about their illness and spend time playing with college students that they can look up to and admire.

"THON weekend gives the children something to look forward to and is emotionally rewarding. Here they are not seen as sick or different, they get the chance just to be a kid," said Garman.

Like Sangrey, Garman has felt the loss of Joe Paterno at the THON event. As she noted, Paterno lived by the motto "make an impact" and passed the message on to students. THON is a prime example of how the students involved are continuing to help others and "make an impact."

"Joe Paterno once said about THON, when they say, ‘We Are Penn State,’ this is what they are talking about," said Garman.

Although THON really did get started as a dance marathon, it has now evolved into a marathon with 700 "dancers" who have to stay on their feet for 46 hours, with no sitting or sleeping. Each club sponsors one or more families of children with cancer.

Money is also raised during the year through can collections on four designated weekends. Last year, more than $9 million was collected for the Four Diamonds Fund.

In 1977, THON partnered with The Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, and designated The Fund as the sole beneficiary of THON’s fundraising efforts. THON still supports The Four Diamonds Fund and has contributed more than $78 million.

The Four Diamonds Fund was established by Charles and Irma Millard, after the death of their son, Christopher, who was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 11. Shortly before his death at 14, Christopher wrote a story about a knight who had to find the four diamonds of Courage, Wisdom, Honesty and Strength.

The Four Diamonds Fund offsets the cost of treatment that insurance does not cover, as well as other expenses that help the family in their struggle. Not only does the Four Diamond Fund support the medical team that cares for the children, but it provides funds for pediatric cancer research through start-up grants and the Four Diamonds Pediatric Cancer Research Institute.

"Being involved in THON is a great honor to every one of us," said Sangrey.

To find out more about Penn State THON and the Four Diamonds Fund, check THON.org. More THON, page A14

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