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Penn State New Kensington students ready for dance marathon

| Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012

UPPER BURRELL — Four Penn State New Kensington students are preparing for the toughest mental and physical test of their lives.

Joe Mandak, Erin Prager, Andrew Holodink and Kelsie Nury will represent the local campus as dancers in the Penn State Interfraternity Council/Panhellenic Dance Marathon — or THON.

THON — which claims to be the largest student-run philanthropy group in the world — is a no sleeping, no sitting, 46-hour dance marathon to benefit the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Children's Hospital in Philadelphia.

This year's THON will be held from Friday, Feb. 17, until Sunday, Feb. 19, at the Penn State University Park Campus' Bryce Jordan Center.

"I'm definitely nervous, but I'm really excited," said Prager, a 23-year-old senior from Harrison.

Like almost all THON dancers, the PSNK dancers have had to take special preparations for get themselves prepared for the event.

"I've cut caffeine and alcohol completely out of my diet," said Holodink, a 22-year-old senior from Penn Hills. "I also exercise and stretch everyday. Whenever I can stand instead of sit, I do."

Last year alone, THON raised $9.56 million for the Four Diamonds Fund, which helps children with cancer.

More than $52,000 of that amount came from PSNK, placing it among the three highest branch campuses among 19 across the state.

"We set our goal at $60,000 this year," said Lauren Richards, a 20-year-old junior from Penn Hills, who serves as the chairperson for the college's THON committee of about 40 students. "We're at about $30,000 right now."

Richards said that she believes donations are down because the recent Jerry Sandusky scandal and the cancellation of a fundraising trip due to bad weather. But more people donating to THON this year in honor of recently deceased former football coach Joe Paterno, per his family's request. Local officials believe that some of those donations ordinarily would have come through PSNK.

"Given everything we've been through, the amount we've raised is still pretty incredible."

Richards and the dancers said that regardless of the circumstances, they must keep pushing ahead.

THON — which at times takes on the appearance of a large house party, filled with people wearing bright colors, singing, dancing, and cheering — is a unique experience that is hard to describe, according to Mandak.

"I wish I had words to describe it," said Mandak, a 21-year-old senior from New Kensington.

Mandak said the death of his grandfather, Joseph Mandak Sr., due to cancer last summer gave him the inspiration to be a dancer.

"Seeing what he went through was terrible," he said. "No one should go through that — let alone a little kid."

All four PSNK dancers are first-time marathoners. In order to be appointed, students must raise $1,000 and pass a series of interviews.

Dancing in THON is an honor usually reserved for juniors and seniors, but Nury, 19, from Lower Burrell will represent the campus as a freshman.

"It's very rare that a freshman gets to dance," Holodink said. "She's only the third freshman to ever dance for our campus."

Nury attributes her allowance to be a dance marathoner on her affinity for children.

"I just love being involved with kids," said Nury, who is majoring in elementary education.

Prager said children are "the greatest part" of what makes THON such a worthwhile experience.

Mandak said that THON is something he'll keep with him throughout his life.

"I'm going to dance until they find a cure," Mandak said.

"Then, I'll dance in celebration."

It's not too late to donate

There's still time to support Penn State's dance marathon.

In-person donations must be submitted by 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb 16. Online donations must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 19.

• Visit, click "donate," fill out the form and click "organizations" at the bottom, then click "New Kensington" on the next page.

• Donate in person at Penn State New Kensington's student life office with cash or a check made out to Penn State Dance Marathon. The school is at 3550 Seventh Street Road, Upper Burrell.

Penn State New Kensington's THON dancers

• Andrew Holodink, a senior from Penn Hills studying administration of justice.

• Joe Mandak, a senior from New Kensington studying corporate communications.

• Kelsie Nury, a freshman from Lower Burrell studying elementary education.

• Erin Prager, a senior from Harrison studying business.

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