Thomas Jefferson's first Mini-THON nets maxi-results

| Wednesday, April 16, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Thomas Jefferson High School's first Mini-THON was an overwhelming succcess that raised more than double its organizer's goal.

Dancers on 21 teams kept the beat for 12 straight hours on April 5 to raise money to find a cure for pediatric cancer. As the marathon was ending, the tally was announced — $22,357.78.

Student Becky Stem, 18, organized the event inspired by the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, in which students dance for 46 hours each year to raise money for the Four Diamonds Fund, which helps children with cancer and their families and funds research.

Stem hoped for at least $10,000, because the event was new to her Thomas Jefferson classmates and the community. The school's student council gave its wholehearted support.

“I was absolutely amazed,” the senior said. “It exceeded my expectations.”

Leah Mizgalski, student council adviser, guessed the total might be at least $12,000. As she tallied contributions days before the event, she grew surprised by the numbers.

“It dawned on me, we were inching toward $20,000,” she said. “I kept the secret from Becky and a lot of people.”

When the final number was revealed, energy in the gymnasium ran high.

Lauren Kaszonyi, captain of the faculty team that joined in the effort, couldn't have been more pleased.

“As a Penn State alumnus, it was especially heartwarming to see this philanthropic event come to life at our high school,” she said. “I feel fortunate to call myself a Nittany Lion and a TJ Jaguar in our joint fight against pediatric cancer.”

Her team — which included faculty members Justin Kaszonyi, Lindsey Moore, Evan Cecere, Michael Kilcoyne, Pat Fiorill, Heidi Karcher, Dustin Guidish and Kelly Miller — raised $1,486. Kayla's Brigade, Team 2, earned $2,640.05, and By the Kids, For the Kids collected $3,608.

Strong community support and donations from families increased the total.

“The students worked hard, harder than I thought,” Mizgalski said.

Through some of the hours, Stem was on the floor. The Pleasant Hills teen was buoyed by talk from underclassmen of organizing another Mini-THON next year.

“I'm getting important feedback on Twitter and Instagram,” she said, “and I'm hearing kids talk about it a week after the fact.”

She, Mizgalski and Kaszonyi would like the event to become a high school tradition.

In the fall, Stem will head off to Penn State University, where the event now commonly known as THON, began.

“This was the highlight of my time here at TJ,” she said.

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5803 or

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