P-T alum helps direct THON's finances

| Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

All it took was a child with a squirt gun to get Alex Snopko hooked on THON.

Snopko was attending Penn State's IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon — better known as THON — as a freshman when a boy who looked to be about 5 or 6 years old set his sights on the 2009 Penn-Trafford graduate.

The unknown boy — one of many running around with squirt guns — aimed, fired and drenched Snopko. The child quickly moved on to his next target; Snopko, meanwhile, marveled at the shot he had just taken to the heart.

“Something that simple made him so happy,” Snopko said, thinking back to that moment four years ago. “It's something so small, but it was an incredible moment. I think that entire weekend and having moments like that was when I knew I wanted to be involved with THON throughout the rest of college.”

The personal connections that students make with pediatric cancer patients and their families is what drives the philanthropy each year. And it's why Snopko — who serves as this year's finance director — got involved.

“We have opportunities to see where the money we're raising actually goes,” he said. “Each (campus) organization (that participates) is paired with a family, and through that we really get to connect. I think that's the biggest reason we continue to want to make a difference.”

The event culminates every year in a 46-hour dance marathon at Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center.

This year's dance ran from Friday through Sunday, and Snopko was one of only six people to know THON's fundraising total of $13.3 million total before it was revealed. Snopko, three other students and two advisors calculated and finalized the total about three hours before THON culminated with the announcement.

“I was surprised and excited for how hard everyone worked to raise funds and awareness this year,” Snopko said. “This is a physical representation of that hard work paying off for the kids.”

Snopko rose in the ranks of THON's finance committee to become finance director this year. His responsibilities included managing the revenues and expenses of THON throughout the year to ensure that at least 96 percent of the fundraising total goes to the Four Diamonds Fund, which helps the families of children who are treated at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital and provides for pediatric cancer research.

Snopko manages a team of 28 students, who in turn oversees about 150 finance committee members. The committee processes donations throughout the year, and Sopko said the work took up most of his time — sometimes up to 15 hours in a day.

“Obviously, I still go to class, but with my free time I'm in our office working on stuff for THON,” Snopko said.

Among those it has helped is 5-year-old cancer survivor Charlie Beecher. Charlie — whose favorite thing to do at THON is to fill a squirt gun with water and take aim on every student he sees on the dance floor — and his family have a 100-day THON countdown every year.

“It's what our boys look forward to most,” said Shayne Beecher, Charlie's father.

The students' efforts aren't lost on the kids that they help.

“I like them a lot,” Charlie said while attending the dance this past weekend. “They're pretty nice.”

Shawn Annarelli is a freelance writer.

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