Feb. 6—Valley high school graduates are preparing to participate in a 46-hour dance marathon for Penn State University's THON, the largest student-run philanthropy in the world that raises money for children and families impacted by childhood cancer.
The organization's yearlong fundraising efforts will culminate in the dance marathon during which dancers are not allowed to sleep or sit for 46 hours in the Bryce Jordan Center. This year's marathon will take place Feb. 16-18.
Tori Smith, who graduated from Shikellamy, said she knew she wanted to get involved with the organization when she began studying at Penn State four years ago, but didn't know she would find a family in the group she joined: Atlas.
"My sophomore year, I joined Atlas, a special interest organization benefitting THON. Atlas supports five amazing families: The Smiths, the Brobsons, the Gerenas, the Nortons, and the Garcia Ramos," Smith said.
Members of Atlas can be picked out from the crowd thanks to their pink, fuzzy hats, Smith said.
"It all started when our first family, the Smiths, told us the story of how when they were watching the THON livestream one year, they couldn't see our organization due to thousands of people in the Bryce Jordan Center during THON weekend," Smith said. "At the same time, Victoria had a favorite blue fuzzy hat she wore all the time. Jokingly, they said we should all wear pink fuzzy hats like Victoria's so we would be easier to see from far away."
The next year, every member of Atlas was wearing fuzzy pink hats and the tradition has continued, according to Smith.
Smith is now a graduate student at Penn State and said Atlas was a driving force in her desire to return to the university.
"I couldn't give up the incredible group of members we have and THON's inspiring mission," Smith said. "This year I serve as the donor and alumni relations executive chair for Atlas, in which I love spreading the meaning of THON and connecting past and new alumni and donors."
Along with being a dancer for the 46-hour marathon, Smith will also be donating her hair on the THON stage during the weekend, she said.
Emma Rosko, a graduate of Southern Columbia, is a senior at Penn State studying chemical engineering. Rosko said she joined the organization when she was a sophomore and loved it so much, she became the primary volunteer for her organization, the American Institute for Chemical Engineers.
This year, Rosko will participate as a dancer for the first time. Though she has about two weeks left to prepare for the big weekend, Rosko said cutting caffeine has been the biggest struggle so far.
"We're not allowed to drink caffeine throughout the weekend because we could crash," she said. "I've started cutting my caffeine and it's been really tough because I drink a lot of coffee."
The senior said she is also working out more and trying to normalize her sleep schedule.
"Two of my roommates will also be dancing so we've been staying in and preparing while a lot of people are going out," Rosko said.
Like Rosko, Smith is also working to cut down her caffeine consumption and has been focusing on consistent exercise, she said.
Smith is looking forward to this year's line dance in particular.
"I can't wait to see this year's line dance, a compilation of choreographed songs and dances relevant to the past year's pop culture which is played sporadically throughout the weekend to pump up the entire Bryce Jordan Center," she said. "I am so excited for THON Weekend, where we will dance through the night — together for the fight."
Donations to THON through Rosko's organization, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, can be made at: https://donate.thon.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=83441.
Donations through Smith's club, Atlas, can be made at: https://donate.thon.org/participant/Tori-Smith.