12 hours for the kids

By Bella Jackson

At noon on Saturday, almost 500 students will start dancing in the Illini Union. The music, energy and movement will continue until midnight. But during that time, they will raise money for children treated at the St. John’s Children’s Hospital in Springfield. 

Dance Marathon, a nationwide organization dedicated to raising money for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, was founded in 1991 and has spread to more than 150 schools. At the University, the event is known as IlliniThon and fundraises for St. John’s Children’s Hospital in Springfield. 

At the event, families of the hospital patients share their stories, play games and dance alongside the students. 

“We get to see the kids that we’re donating our money towards,” said Alyssa Rawleigh, IlliniThon president and senior in Media. “We get to play games with them and just have them be regular kids and out of the hospital.” 

Although this is the seventh IlliniThon, Rawleigh said this year will be exciting and different because of some changes they’ve implemented. She said that for the first time, the event goes from noon to midnight, instead of through the night. 

She said the time change means that the families can stay for the whole event instead of having to leave to put the kids to bed. 

Michael Azzaro, IlliniThon vice president and senior in ACES, said another new addition to the event is Color Wars, a competition where each team wears a different color and earns points in games such as tug of war, dodgeball, relay races and bags. 

Lauren Schrowang, senior in Media, is the vice president of events. She said that the executives will start setting up around 8:30 a.m. on Saturday. 

“We have rooms basically all over the Union,” Schrowang said. “The main room is upstairs in the Ballroom, but we also have Room B on the main floor and other smaller rooms where we’ll have Just Dance, stations to make cards, and other activities.” 

Azzaro said the participants will also progressively learn the Morale Dance, a 12-minute mix of songs with a choreographed routine. At the end of the night, all of the attendees will do the dance in sync four or five times in a row to finish with lots of energy. 

Schrowang said this year, the overall theme is Disney, which includes hours dedicated to classic Disney characters, prince and princess fairy tales and Pixar.  

“Check-in begins at 11, and the madness goes from there,” Schrowang said. 

The participants form teams that wear different colored shirts and represent the Miracle Children or the hospital patients. Many of the teams are Greek organizations, both from social and service fraternities on campus, but many RSOs are also participating. Schrowang said individuals can also join without a group affiliation. 

All of the participants are working toward a common goal: to help the patients and families of St. John’s. 

This year, 13 families are coming to the events, but the day is especially dedicated to one little girl. 

“This year is kind of special for our event, because about a week ago, one of our Miracle Children passed away,” Rawleigh said. “Her name is Faith, and this year is in honor of her. We put her name on the backs of our shirts; she has her own team. It really puts things in perspective for us.” 

Schrowang said that some of the families of the hospital patients will come back every year, which allows the group members to form long-term relationships. 

“Our exec board is invited to one of the kid’s birthday parties every year because we’ve maintained such a good relationship with them,” Azzaro said. 

Throughout the night, the families will share their stories and talk about how St. John’s has helped them. 

Jennifer Lin, senior in Engineering, has participated in Dance Marathon events at her high school and has been a dancer at IlliniThon since her freshman year.

“Though most of us don’t comprehend the level of hardships the families have endured, we support them fully because we see how St. John’s Children’s Hospital transforms the money into miracles,” Lin wrote in an email. “Being able to see who exactly it is I’m fundraising for makes me feel connected and more dedicated to helping out the cause.”

The executive board of the event has been planning for this Saturday since last spring, Rawleigh said. 

“Right after the event ends, we start planning for the next year, just because there are so many components to planning something like this,” Rawleigh said. 

Schrowang said that IlliniThon differs from other philanthropic organizations because the entire year is spent working up to one 12-hour event. 

“You support it all year, and then you get to see all of your hard work pay off,” she said.

Lin said the hardest part of any Dance Marathon event is staying on your feet for the full 12 hours. 

“No matter what shoes you wear, the weight of your body on your feet leave you sore for days,” Lin wrote in an email. “But the pain we feel is only the smallest fraction of the pain the children and their families go through, so it’s a constant reminder to be grateful for what we have and to stay strong for those that we help.” 

Even though the event is long, the energy level always stays high. 

“As cliche as it sounds, our energy comes from seeing these families at the event,” Rawleigh said. “It’s a long event, but it goes by so fast. There are so many things going on; you don’t have time to realize that (when) you’re tired.” 

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