By Kelsey Ginck, Corporate Communication Global Fellow at Johnson & Johnson, and Penn State Class of 2012.
One by one, numbers are lifted up until a final dollar sign is revealed and the THON 2013 total is greeted with screams and tears from thousands of student volunteers. The Penn State Dance Marathon (THON) shattered its previous record by raising $12,374,034.46 for kids with cancer. Johnson & Johnson was one of the leading sponsors of THON 2013, as we have been for many years, sharing in Penn State’s dream of conquering pediatric cancer. This year, I was there too, and I’m proud to be part of both organizations who are so committed to this cause.
THON is one of the most difficult things to explain to someone who’s never seen it with their own eyes. In its most basic form, the Penn State Dance Marathon is a yearlong fundraising effort, that culminates in February with a 46-hour no sitting, no sleeping dance marathon. All proceeds benefit the Four Diamonds Fund, an organization affiliated with the Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, which provides families facing pediatric cancer with comfort and financial support. Students spend time with Four Diamonds Families, as they are affectionately called, throughout the year and invite them to the big celebration in February. At THON, kids with cancer become superheroes and are given a chance to forget about cancer for a weekend. At hour 46, the Bryce Jordan Center falls silent as Penn State students and four diamonds families wait in anticipation of the big total reveal. Johnson & Johnson provides both financial support and product donations for the dancers’ personal care. Seven hundred and ten students pledge to stand on their feet for 46 hours to conquer pediatric cancer, but they require a lot of care to keep them healthy and safe throughout the weekend. To help, Johnson & Johnson donates hygiene products like toothbrushes, mouthwash, face wash, and body lotion. We also provide first aid supplies and athletic tape for the training tables at THON and Johnson’s® Baby Powder to keep the dancers’ feet feeling clean and dry.
I graduated from Penn State in 2012 and was involved with THON in varying ways throughout my four years as a Nittany Lion. 2013 was my first year attending THON as an alumna. My senior year, I was honored with the opportunity to dance – something only 700 students get the chance to do each year. I stood for 46 hours without sleep, and while that may sound like torture to some, it was without a doubt the most rewarding experience of my life. My organization sponsored Emily Whitehead, the bravest seven-year-old I’ve ever met and a name you may recognize from the news. After multiple relapses of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), Emily has been in remission since May. Emily’s battle was treacherous and her results, miraculous. Knowing her has changed my life and she will forever be an inspiration to me. Dancing for Emily in 2012, when she was physically unable to do so herself, was an honor and something I will never forget. Stories like hers are why Penn State started THON, and why organizations like Johnson & Johnson do not hesitate to get involved. Since THON began in 1977, it has contributed more than $100 million to the Four Diamonds Fund.
Attending THON for the first time as an outsider looking in, I felt a sense of pride not only for my school and everything that THON has accomplished but also for Johnson & Johnson. Standing (because there’s no sitting at THON) in the stands of the Bryce Jordan Center, I felt proud to see the Johnson & Johnson logo projected across the marquee. In that moment, I realized that my involvement in THON has come full circle, and I will continue to support the cause year after year, just like Johnson & Johnson has. Being part of a company like Johnson & Johnson allows me to continue making a difference, and THON is just one of the ways our company is helping communities and individuals in need.