Abington THON leaders pursue their passion, develop life skills

Abington THON pasta

Abington THON Chair Melissa Aguilar and friends organized a pasta dinner to raise additional money before THON weekend.

Credit: Maria Narodetsky

The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, or THON, is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, raises millions of dollars annually to support pediatric cancer research. But the experience also provides invaluable professional and personal development for students throughout Penn State.

Abington THON Chair Melissa Aguilar and her executive board overflow with enthusiasm For The Kids, but their passion also leads them to develop skill sets that may not be available to students at other colleges and universities. There are hard skills: event logistics, group travel, risk management, grant writing, fund raising and financial reporting. The soft skills they learn through THON include leadership, communications, volunteer recruitment and nonprofit management.

"I find myself thinking about THON on my commute to school, in class, watching TV, even in the shower!! Every second is valuable."

               -- Melissa Aguilar, Abington THON chair

Melissa wrote about the behind-the-scenes work that leads to a successful THON campaign on the Abington Lions Tales student blog:

“I can honestly say being a THON chair is not for the weak! The amount a THON chair does to exceed the expectations for their organization and others is tremendous. I look at the chairs from other campuses and am astounded by the amount of heart they put into THON. Even under all the stress, they are some of the greatest people I know! For those outside of THON, it looks like really hard work because their views are outside of our passion, but in reality, we are having the time of our lives!

The question I get the most is, ‘How much time do you spend on THON?’  My answer is simply, however much time it takes until we find a cure. We are planning for THON in our heads, hours on end. I find myself thinking about THON on my commute to school, in class, watching TV, even in the shower!! Every second is valuable.

For example, we have been planning for THON Weekend since the beginning of our terms. We had our hotel rooms reserved in August. We had our proposal written for funding for a bus to take us up to THON Weekend ready in November.

Melissa knows that success isn't guaranteed without the dedication of the entire organization especially for the upcoming THON Weekend:

“These volunteers wait in line in some crazy conditions. There are hundreds of people who wake up at the crack of dawn on the Friday morning of THON Weekend. They are usually outside from about 9 a.m.-2 p.m., in the middle of February, in the mountains of State College, in whatever weather conditions. Last year, it was a cloudy, rainy day with high winds, and I can tell you from experience, it was so worth it!

Standing on our feet and sacrificing just one weekend, waiting in line in the cold, and spending countless hours to plan every single second of THON is nothing compared to what these kids and families fight through every day.

To read more about the experience of Abington students at THON go to the Lions Tales blog at https://pennstateabington.wordpress.com.

The IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon raised a record $13.34 million last year, bringing the total support for the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital to $114 million since 1977. The 2015 THON begins Feb. 20.