Illinithon connects families with fundraisers


Daily Illini File Photo

Students participate in the Illinithon Dance Marathon.

By Elizabeth Dudzik, Contributing writer

Tailgating at Grange Grove has become a new, fun pregame option. But for eight families, Saturday morning was about more than just showing Illini spirit. 

IlliniThon, an RSO that fundraises for St. John’s Children’s Hospital in Springfield, Illinois, hosted a tailgate in Grange Grove where eight Miracle Families came out and enjoyed food, drinks and games in the company of members of the IlliniThon Leadership Team.

This event is one of many that provides the unique opportunity for students to see the direct effect of their efforts year round because the Miracle Children are the face of the cause.

Courtney Wright, senior, has been involved in IlliniThon since her freshman year and said that it has become the “single biggest part of her college career.”

Kaydence, Wright’s Miracle Child freshman year, has been Wright’s favorite memory of Illinithon. Courtney has had the opportunity to see Kaydence grow over these past four years. She said that this three-year-old who was quiet and shy when they first met is now a seven-year-old who runs around tugging on Courtney’s sleeve and asking for piggyback rides.

IlliniThon supports new families every year while continuing to follow and support previous Miracle Children. Families are introduced and connected to IlliniThon through a contact at St. John’s who works for the Children’s Miracle Network. While the number varies, IlliniThon supports anywhere between 15 and 20 families, with the youngest Miracle Child being a year and a half and the oldest being 19.

Kaitlyn Paslay is a 19-year-old Miracle Child. In 2009, when she was 11 years old, doctors diagnosed Kaitlyn with Type B Leukemia. Shortly after her diagnosis, Kaitlyn became involved in IlliniThon and is now a six-year veteran within the organization. Kaitlyn continues to show her support to the organization that supported her by coming to events and fundraisers and sharing her story.

She said she is happy to be involved in this organization because the IlliniThon Family means a lot to her, and even today Kaitlyn keeps in touch with students she first met when she was a little girl who have since graduated from the University because “they share a bond of friendship that has been there since the beginning.”

Kaitlyn said her favorite IlliniThon memory was this past May when the IlliniThon Family celebrated her five-year remission mark with a graduation ceremony at the ARC. They surprised Kaitlyn by flying her brother in from California and creating a tunnel for her to run through to make it to the stage to receive her diploma. She said that seeing her brother filled her eyes with tears, and that it was an amazing surprise that members of IlliniThon helped organize and fund.

Today, Kaitlyn is attending Richland Community College in Decatur, Illinois, but plans to transfer to Iowa State. Kaitlyn is studying to become a fashion designer, which was originally a hobby she took up when she was sick in the hospital, but has now become her dream. She said she “never expected to get so far,” and is thankful and proud of how far she has come.

Three-year-old Peyton Skrysak is another Miracle Child. She is a surviving triplet who was born twenty-two weeks and six days premature. Peyton lost her sister, Abigail, at birth and her brother, Parker, hardly two months later. She spent 116 days in the St. John’s Children’s Hospital NICU before she was finally able to go home.

The Skrysak Family found IlliniThon through the Children’s Miracle Network and have now been involved for three years. Stacey Skrysak, Peyton’s mom, said that the best part of IlliniThon is the students’ drive and commitment. Peyton calls them the “college kiddos.”

Stacey said that her family tries to attend as many IlliniThon events and fundraisers as they can because her family’s presence is just as important for IlliniThon as IlliniThon’s presence was for them. By being at the events, the students are able to see the cause they are rallying around and supporting.

Amelia Kelly, Assistant Director for IlliniThon, said that one of the best parts about being a member of this organization is that she is able to help give these kids a childhood.  

“Everything you do is 100 percent for the kids because it’s all about the kids,” she said. 

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