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Penn State students gather in South Hills neighborhoods to raise money for THON

| Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Stephanie Hacke | South Hills Record
Penn State University freshman Casey Luddy, 17, of Stamford, CT participates in THON, a school fundraiser, along Brownsville Road in Brentwood.
Stephanie Hacke | South Hills Record
Penn State freshman Brianna Gerstel, 18, of Northfield, NJ participates in THON, a school fundraiser.
Penn State junior Liz Ducker, 20, of Baldwin Borough waves to a driver as they pass by along Brownsville Road in Brentwood while raising money during THON, a school fundraiser.
Liz Ducker, 20, of Baldwin Borough reaches out for money from a driver along Brownsville Road in Brentwood while raising money during THON, a school fundraiser.
Liz Ducker, 20, of Baldwin Borough gives a thumbs up to a driver along Brownsville Road in Brentwood after receiving a donation while raising money during THON, a school fundraiser.

They stand on the edge of the busy four-lane highway wearing their craziest hats and prominently displaying their school name on their shirts.

From dawn to dusk on designated Saturdays each fall, thousands of college students from Penn State University gather on neighborhood curbs and sidewalks seeking donations in connection with the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, or THON, which raises funds for and awareness of the fight against pediatric cancer.

“You're getting up really early and dressing crazy. As long as you have in your head why you're doing it, you're going to feel good at the end of the weekend because you've helped a lot of kids,” said Liz Ducker, 20, a Penn State junior communications and media studies major and family facilitator with Ohana, a special-interest organization that raises money for THON. Ohana was started in 2008 by her brother, Mike Ducker Jr., she said.

Since 1977, THON has raised more than $101 million for the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital, its website states.

It was watching her brother's involvement in THON and desire to raise money to help children in need that led Ducker to attend Penn State, she said. Her sister, Melissa, a 2005 Penn State graduate, and Mike's wife, Katie, also were involved in THON. Katie even received support from the Four Diamonds Fund, Ducker said.

“It was because I saw the incredible things they were doing,” she said. “I knew that would be my college life.”

Ducker, a 2011 Baldwin High School graduate, began volunteering for THON her freshman year as a student at Penn State Altoona.

This year, Ducker's family once again has hosted members of Ohana as they visit Pittsburgh to “can,” or seek donations, on local streets. The first time, seven college students crowded into Mike and Maryanne Ducker's house. Then, there were 14. This weekend, another 14 students will pile into the Ducker family home for good food, fellowship and fundraising.

Saturday, the group will be in Baldwin Borough and along Route 51 seeking donations, Ducker said.

“Pittsburgh is always good to us,” Ducker said.

On each visit, members of Ohana hear stories from people who themselves survived cancer, she said. That's inspiring for the canners, who often brave the brisk temperatures to raise money on the streets.

Every dollar helps. Sometimes, though, there are big surprises. Last week, a man placed two $100 bills into a member's can, Ducker said.

On average, members of Ohana each collect between $300 and $350 in a weekend of canning, she said. After a day on the streets, they head back to their home for the night for a good meal and money counting, Ducker said.

Sunday, it's another morning of “canning” and then a three-hour drive back to State College.

Knowing that they've raised money for to help children is a great feeling, Ducker said.

“There's no feeling like it,” she said. “We say, ‘Cancer never stops, but neither do we.'”

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or

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