If it is true that young people are our future — and I believe they are — then we are in pretty good shape.
College students throughout this country have devoted hours upon hours of their leisure time to help combat serious childhood illnesses by raising money that is directed at daily patient and family care or research.
Although a lot of that fundraising occurs year round, it culminates in dance marathons in which hundreds of young people dance or stand for at least 24 hours at a time.
The oldest, biggest and most successful by far is the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon at Pennsylvania State University, which began with 39 couples in 1973 and has grown to 15,000 volunteers. This year, THON, as that 46-hour marathon is known, raised more than $12 million. That money is donated to a fund that helps the families of children with cancer.
At the University of Kentucky, a similar effort is called DanceBlue, a student-run, 24-hour dance marathon that will hold its eighth event this weekend.
The first DanceBlue, on Feb. 10-11, 2006, raised more than $123,000, a record for any student-led dance marathon, according to its Website. Last year, DanceBlue raised more than $834,000 for Golden Matrix Fund at the DanceBlue UK Pediatric Oncology Clinic. To date, it has raised more than $3.5 million.
Logan Sparks, DanceBlue spokesperson said the project was spurred by Jarrett Mynear, a young Lexington boy who was first diagnosed with cancer at the age of 2. During one of Jarrett's many visits to hospitals out of state for treatment, he noticed someone delivering toys to sick children. When he returned home, he started Jarrett's Joy Cart, distributing toys to sick, hospitalized children. He died in 2002 at age 13.
Jarrett's mother, Jennifer Mynear, began working with UK students, staff and administrators to start a dance marathon locally to help families needing financial and emotional support during their child's illness, Sparks said. The philanthropic venture has been so successful, DanceBlue has been added to the clinic's name.
"DanceBlue made a commitment to give them $1 million over four years," Sparks said, adding that some of the money goes to fund the salary of a social worker to work with families at the clinic. And some of the money goes to families who may need help with transportation, tests, procedures and other medical bills.
Half of the money raised goes to cancer research at the Markey Cancer Center, she said. "Cancer research is a huge part of what we strive to do."
Some of the money has also been used to spruce up the walls with murals and to purchase toys and activities that patients and siblings can use to pass the time.
But the effort is not only about fundraising. Some students volunteer weekly at the pediatric clinic and interact with patients' families, she said.
The community has gotten involved with the marathon as well. During the past few weeks, Woodford County High School and Maxwell Spanish Immersion Magnet Elementary School held mini-marathons and added $10,000 and $6,000 to this year's total respectively.
To take part in the 24-hour dance marathon, dancers have to raise or pledge at least $360 each, Sparks said. Most participate through one of the 75 organizations involved, such as a sorority or fraternity, a religious group or one of the medical or nursing school associations. The deadline to enter has passed.
About 800 dancers are expected, she said. No sitting or sleeping allowed. A lot of themed activities are planned to keep the atmosphere lively and onlookers are welcome to watch. The best time for that will be at the start when the dancers enter Memorial Coliseum, and the final two hours, Sparks said.
"At 6 p.m. Saturday, there will be a celebration of life hour where we remember those we have lost," she said. "And during the final hour, between 7 and 8 p.m. we will reveal the total. Until then, only a couple of people know how much was raised this year. It is a secret."
And for those of us who can't stand or stay awake that long, but want to support this effort, DanceBlue has a button on its Website to accept our donations.
Knowing young people are willing to give their time and energy for others, I think the future will be just fine.
IF YOU GO
What: The University of Kentucky DanceBlue 24-hour dance marathon to benefit the Golden Matrix Fund at the DanceBlue Kentucky Children's Hospital Pediatric Oncology Clinic and Markey Cancer Center.
When: 8 p.m. Fri.-8 p.m. Sat.
Where: Memorial Coliseum, 201 Avenue of Champions.
Information: Call (859) 257-9385, or visit danceblue.org.