UI to hold 9th dance marathon

By Michael Semaca

Founded in 1991 at Indiana University, the organization has raised millions of dollars for the Children’s Miracle Network across the country.

The University is no exception; since 2007, students have been able to participate in IlliniThon, a 12-hour event occurring every April. This year, the event will be held on April 23.

IlliniThon is still comparatively small due to its age, but the event has expanded signifcantly in the nine years since its inception.

“We’ve grown quite in size since then,” IlliniThon president Bailey Burns said. “Last year, we raised $130,000, and our first year was just under $10,000.”

Burns said over 2,000 volunteers will participate this year — three times as many dancers as last year — and registration doesn’t close until March 23. Participants, including sophomore Shayaan Naseer, are impressed with the event’s rapid expansion.

“I am most excited about how much and how quickly the event has grown and is growing,” Naseer said. “I think we’re one of the younger Dance Marathons around the U.S. and our growth is honestly amazing.”

Because of the event’s continuous rapid growth, it will move from the Illini Union to the ARC. Additionally, the event’s timing has changed, now being held overnight from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m.

“It’s going to be really exciting,” Burns said. “It’s truly a kind of different experience when you’re staying up all night and really making that that sacrifice for the kids.”

Nick Havens, director of public relations for IlliniThon, echoed that sentiment.

“It has been (at the ARC) in previous years, but this year we’re filling it up and everything, so it’ll be a totally different atmosphere,” Havens said.

Due to the large increase in participants, IlliniThon’s executive board anticipates to break last year’s record fundraiser.

“We keep growing,” Havens said. “Hopefully this year we’re gonna make a big leap from (last year); our goal is over $200,000, so we’re definitely trying to grow. We’ve had record breaking amounts of dancers sign up this year as well, so it’s really exciting.”

Havens has promoted the event throughout the year, including hosting a “Meet the Miracles Day,” where some of the families IlliniThon benefited came to campus and met with volunteers. The event alone raised over $12,000 for children.

According to Havens, the expansion to multiple events is one of the organization’s goals.

“We’re trying to get away from the mentality that it’s just a one day event and that’s it,” he said. “It is a year long effort to fundraise; you can’t raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in one day. We want to make it a year-long effort.”

IlliniThon has benefitted countless families throughout the years. For example, the fundraiser helped fund a new NICU at St. John’s Children’s Hospital in Springfield, where all of IlliniThon’s funds are sent. They’ve also helped many individual “Miracle Children,” including Jordan Planitz.

“He has a terminal condition,” Burns said. “He wasn’t expected to live more than a few hours after he was born, but he’s turning six on the day of our event this year. A lot of our money goes toward getting his family places to stay while they’re treating him, and making sure all children have as fantastic an experience they can while they’re in the hospital.”

Many of the families that benefit will be at the ARC to see the fundraiser. This is part of what makes IlliniThon a unique fundraiser, Naseer said.

“For a lot of fundraisers, the actual people that are affected by the funds can seem so far away,” he said. “With all the families that come in, especially the amazing kids of the Children’s Miracle Network, IlliniThon can really make a special impact on an individual donor and fundraising student that other fundraisers can’t quite match.”

Despite the growth, Havens said Illinithon has ways to go.

“I want everyone to know what IlliniThon is,” Havens said. “At Iowa, the way that it works is everyone knows what dance marathon is, and if you’re not participating, then you go home that weekend, because there’s nothing else on campus. Ultimately, I would like to see that here one day, where the culture is everyone wants to get involved, everyone wants to get fundraising, because it’s just such a wonderful cause.”

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