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Campus dancers ready for the THON experience

THON Dancers 2014
Displaying the traditional Four Diamonds sign, New Kensington THON dancers Mike Cavazza, Mitch Hastings and Melissa Gabrielli are ready "For the Kids."
2/7/2014 —


Mike Cavazza, Melissa Gabrielli and Mitch Hastings;
Penn State IFC/Panhellenic dance marathon

Friday-Sunday, Feb. 21-23, Bryce Jordan Center

“We dance for laughter, we dance for tears,
we dance for madness, we dance for fears,
we dance for hopes, we dance for screams,
we are the dancers, we create the dreams.”
- Author Unknown

Reality television star Abbey Lee Miller and her “Dance Moms” team dance for the glory. Penn State New Kensington student Melissa Gabrielli and her THON team dance for the kids.

For the past month, New Kensington students Mike Cavazza of Indiana, Pa., Mitch Hastings of Delmont, and Gabrielli of Apollo, have fine-tuned their fundraising acumen, polished their dancing skills and honed their mental faculties in preparation for THON, a University-wide event whose goal is to defeat pediatric cancer in the world. They will be dancing for the hopes and dreams of children with cancer, and raising millions of dollars for cancer research.

The campus trio is prepared for their trip Friday to Sunday, Feb. 21 to 23, to Penn State University Park, for the annual Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon (affectionately known as THON), The theme of the 42nd edition is “Redefine the Possibilities.”

“I love helping the kids,” said Gabrielli, a sophomore marketing and management major. “Knowing that I have had an impact on a child's life is the most amazing feeling in the world.”

The New Kensington dancers will join more than 700 Penn State students from all the campuses at the Jordan Center during the 46-hour, no sitting, no sleeping marathon. All monies raised through the dance marathon directly benefit the Four Diamonds Fund at the Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital.

Cavazza, a sophomore petroleum and natural gas engineering major, cites his family’s heath history as the major influence for him becoming involved with THON. His grandmother, grandfather and an aunt have died from cancer.

“Even with these tragedies in my life, I can’t imagine the sadness and tragedy of a child being inflicted with cancer,” said Cavazza, who will intern this summer as a drilling engineer at Conoco-Phillips. “I have always enjoyed helping others, and helping kids fight to overcome cancer makes me feel like I am making a real difference in someone’s life.“

According to Gabrielli, who also serves as the THON committee chair for the New Kensington campus, the number of dancers going to University Park from each campus is based on the amount of money raised by the campus the previous year. Last year, New Kensington students raised $43,437, third best total in campus history. The $52,390 raised in 2010 is the campus standard.

The dancers were chosen by a seven-member interview committee comprised of students, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni. The selections were based on participation in campus THON activities --canning, meetings, and raising at least $1,000 apiece.

THON Committee meeting
The 2014 THON committee at Penn State New Kensington meets weekly in the run up to THON, Feb. 21-23.

For Hastings, a freshman physics major, making it as THON dancer is following a family tradition. His sister, Leigh Hastings, was an integral part of the campus’ 2013 THON team.

“My sister was a dancer last year and got me into it,” said Mitch, who aspires to earn a doctoral degree in nuclear physics.
Leigh is now a junior at University Park where her connection to THON includes being a volunteer on the Rules and Regulation committee. As a veteran of the dance marathon, she has advice for the rookie hoofers when their legs get tired and their muscles ache.

“Just remember, you're not doing this for you, you're not doing it for me, you're not doing it for Penn State New Kensington, you're doing it for the kids,” said Leigh, who was active in numerous community service projects while attending the New Kensington campus. “Take a second, look around at the sea of people cheering you on, and that should be enough to keep you going. But just in case it's not, look at those beautiful innocent lives running around you with pure joy on their faces. Look at their excitement and happiness. That's when you will realize what you are doing this for, and that's when you will realize that 46 hours passed by so quickly and you'd do anything to have just one of those hours back.”

For the past month, the dancers have planned for the rigors of cavorting long-term on the floor of the Jordan Center. By exercising, watching the calories, and eliminating caffeinated drinks, they are ready for the challenge. Cavazza works out regularly, but had to make changes in his routine to accommodate marathon dancing.

“I read information about how to prepare and what to expect so I tailored my workouts to better prepare for the 46 hours of dancing,” said Cavazza, who earned a Chancellor’s Fellowship during his freshman year.

The campus reps won’t be left to their own devices once they hit the dance floor. The University Park THON committee assigns each dancer a moraler who can attend to their needs during the marathon. Be it food, drink, or inspiration, the moraler's responsibility is to help the dancers get through the event.

In addition, the campus is supporting the dancers with about 50 students and friends in the stands who will provide an upbeat atmosphere throughout the marathon. Another group of campus students will lend support by making a day trip by bus on Saturday to the Jordan Center.

The final totals for New Kensington and all the other Penn State units will be announced at the conclusion of the marathon. In the past three years, the New Kensington THON committee has collected $144,000, more than double the total from the past nine years combined. Since 2002, the total is $260,000 to support pediatric cancer patients, families and researchers, who are working to find better treatments and, ultimately, cures for forms of cancer that afflict children. Approximately 100 new families receive support each year.

Overall, THON set a new record last year, raising $12,374,034.46 for the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital. First held in 1973, THON has partnered with the Four Diamonds Fund since 1977 and in that time has raised more than $112 million FTK -- "For The Kids." More than 15,000 students will make THON 2014 happen, including the thousands of students who helped raise funds throughout the year, and thousands more who volunteer during THON weekend.

Since last semester, New Kensington students have been fundraising in earnest, sponsoring a variety of activities, including a spaghetti dinner, zumba night and a bingo bash, for what is believed to be the largest student-run philanthropy in the world. Canning stands out as the most fun and the most lucrative fundraising vehicle for Gabrielli’s cadre of volunteers. Rain or shine, the students stood outside area businesses, explaining the THON mission and collecting money from patrons. The cheerful demeanors of the volunteers provided the impetus for patrons to connect with their philanthropic inner being.

“Canning weekends are my favorite because you get to see how generous people can be,” said Cavazza, who will attend the University Park campus in the fall to complete his bachelor’s degree.

The New Kensington dancers will have a grand send-off at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 19, with a campus-wide "pot-luck" dinner. The participants need to “carbo-load,” and students, faculty and staff are encouraged to bring an assortment of pastas and other high-energy foods to help the foursome boogie all weekend.

The University Park Hastings, who is in the Meteorology program, has some final words of wisdom for the campus terpsichoreans. She wishes them good luck, and reminds them to enjoy the experience because it will be something that they will always remember.

“Take in every hour, every minute, every second,” said Hastings, who will do some storm chasing on the Great Plains in May. “Don't wish away the time you will spend at THON 2014 because the second it's over, and for the rest of your life, you will be wishing that those short 46 hours had never ended.”

Donations to THON can be made by visiting https://securelb.imodules.com/s/1218/thon/2012/wide.aspx?sid=1218&gid=1&pgid=920&cid=3683&appealcode=THON

To credit the New Kensington campus, donors should go to “Gift and Dancer Support,” click the button “Click to support the THON Organization or Dancer of your choice” and designate New Kensington, which is listed under General Organizations.

To RSVP for the THON send-off dinner, contact Lauren Blum, student life coordinator, at 724-334-6063 or ldb14@psu.edu

For more on THON, visit http://www.thon.org/

THON banner


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