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New Kensington students to participate in nonstop dance marathon

| Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011

If you watch THON, it's a swaying sea of hundreds of college students wearing fluorescent T-shirts packed into an arena, dancing for 46-hours straight -- no sleeping, no sitting.

If you hear the facts, it's the Interfraternity Council/Panhellenic Dance Marathon -- THON -- called the largest student-run philanthropy in the world.

It raised $7.8 million last year alone to help children battling pediatric cancer and to search for a cure.

But to feel it is something extraordinary.

Penn State New Kensington's four THON dancers call it life-changing and inspirational.

"When you graduate college, you're not going to remember going to a party or to a football game or who you sat next to in class," sophomore Nicki Thoma of Saxonburg, said, "but you're going to remember that you made an impact on somebody's life.

"And THON Weekend symbolizes that you're actually helping someone in need."

As Megan Pulaski, a sophomore from Murrysville, put it: "You don't really know what they're talking about until you go."

They are among the four PSNK students who will join 700 Penn State students from all of its campuses in a non-stop dance from 6 p.m. Friday until 4 p.m. Sunday in the University Park Campus' Bryce Jordan Center.

When dancers take the floor, thousands of their fellow students will pack the venue to cheer them on.

The families of children affected by pediatric cancer will be there, too. Kid-friendly activities help dancers interact with the children they are helping.

Penn State New Kensington is sending twice the number of dancers that it has in the past.

"I'm excited to walk on the dance floor with three other people from New Kensington," Harrison senior Deanna Mazur said. "That's a huge accomplishment."

The number of dancers per commonwealth campus, like PSNK, is based upon the amount of money raised the previous year.

Last year, the campus raised $23,000, eclipsing the 2004 record of $13,000. Mazur served as PSNK's THON chairwoman last year.

Even so, their fundraising goal is double of last year's.

This year's initial goal was $30,000, but after the campus easily surpassed that number, campus THON chairwoman Kelly Sieja bumped it up to $50,000. So far, the students have raised $48,000.

Three years ago, Penn State New Kensington was in the bottom three for fundraising totals among Penn State's 19 commonwealth campuses. Now, they want to be in the top three.

A group of about 50 Penn State New Kensington students volunteered to raise the money. Dancers attribute the growth to strong leadership, more involvement and passion.

Most of the money is raised through canning, as canister solicitation is called, and "THONvelopes," a letter writing campaign. Other fundraisers like "pie your professor" and holiday gift-wrapping help, too.

All four participants are first-time THON dancers.

Becoming a THON dancer is a long process. To be in the running, each person must raise at least $800, accumulate points by attending meetings and fundraisers and undergo an interview.

There's no way to prepare for 46 hours of no sitting and no sleeping, but there are a few guidelines the dancers will follow.

Allison Park junior Kiki Wilkinson, another of the four PSNK representatives, doesn't want to know what time it is during THON. She plans to have someone switch the time zone on her cellphone clock.

The dancers have been told to cut out caffeine -- during THON weekend caffeine is prohibited so dancers won't crash.

Sieja will be in the stands, cheering on the dancers with other organization members. She's overwhelmed by the support and involvement of the PSNK campus.

Thoma said the group is more than an organization -- "it's a family."

"Kelly always reminds us why we're doing it," Wilkinson said. "For the kids."

To donate to THON

There's still time to donate to Penn State's dance marathon. In-person donations must be submitted by 6 p.m. Thursday. Online donations must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. Saturday.

• Visit here , 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 located at 3550 Seventh Street Road, Upper Burrell.

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