UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For the first time, THON will extend its reach to Florence, Italy, where Penn Staters studying abroad will do their part to help enhance the lives of families impacted by childhood cancer. While more than 700 students spend 46 hours on their feet at the Bryce Jordan Center at Penn State University in University Park, another group will assemble to sway and shake for four hours at Sala D’Arme, Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.
THON is set for Feb. 21-23, while Florence Dance for Kids will take place from 3 to 7 p.m. on Feb. 22.
The idea to hold an event to bolster the efforts of the student-run philanthropy at Penn State was inspired by a taxi. Robin G. Yaure, professor of teaching, human development and family studies at Penn State Mont Alto, was teaching in Italy in the summer of 2018. This summer will mark her 11th doing so.
Yaure said she was moved by a presentation given by Zia Caterina, whose partner, Stefano, a Florence taxi driver, died of cancer in 2001. He left Caterina his taxi, which she uses to drive young cancer patients and their families to hospitals and other places for free. She also provides entertainment in the hospital and raises funds for them. Those who hitch a ride in her “Milano 25” taxi are welcome to add a donation for children to the fare.
Caterina was told about THON, and the idea to bring such an event to Italy “started percolating,” said Yaure, adding that the caring cabbie has been a part of the planning process from the beginning. In fact, the charity she runs — Milano 25 ONG — paired with the International Studies Institute (ISI Florence) to plan the inaugural Florence Dance for Kids.
The ISI was established in 2001 as an independent private educational organization serving as an American educational center in Florence. Four years later, it created the Consortium for Public Universities, of which Penn State is a member.
Funds from the Feb. 22 dance will go to Caterina’s organization and the Trento Proton Therapy Centre, where young patients are offered new treatments for cancer.
Yaure said students from London, Spain and Rome expressed interest in being part of the THON in Florence after hearing about it through their friends and social media. She said 30 students have signed up to help with the THON-esque event in Italy, particularly with the social networking side of it.
While they are having life-changing experiences in faraway places, a lot of Penn State students studying abroad said they miss all of the events happening on their campuses, said Yaure. Having a fundraising dance in Florence is one way to give them a taste of home.
Yaure will be present when the participants gather together in the palace, dating to the 14th or 15th century, which serves as the seat of city government there. She hopes there might even be a flash mob in the nearby piazza.
Yaure is communicating with the students in Italy as plans progress.
“We’re winging it at this point,” she said with a laugh, adding that one of her colleagues, Robyn Chotiner, adjunct professor of psychology at PSUMA, has been extremely helpful.
Ultimately, Yaure would love Dance for Kids to enjoy the longevity of THON, which began in the late 1970s.
“That would be my dream, to see it go on,” she said.
Back at University Park, students on 16 committees specialize in different areas of the planning logistics and execution of THON’s year-round campaigns, fundraising and events, including THON weekend, said Dan Mele, public-relations director for this year’s THON. Among the many activities offered over the 46 hours are stage acts, inspirational speakers, children with cancer demonstrating their talent and fashion sense, and a pep rally featuring Penn State athletes showing off their best dance moves.
"I THON so every cub can become a Nittany Lion.”
—Keighley Taylor, senior, Penn State Mont Alto
Together, the committee and organization members total more than 16,500 student volunteers from many of Penn State’s campuses, including Penn State Mont Alto. Volunteers and supporters nationwide participate throughout the year in various events, such as the THON 5K, Harvest Day, 100 Days ’Til Thon and a family carnival.
This year, more than 60 students will represent Penn State Mont Alto at THON, four of whom will be dancing, said Donna Rhodes, coordinator of student activities and program development at Mont Alto. On the dance floor will be seniors Kirsten Tercek and Madison Shirley, and sophomores Jacob Zeigler and Adrian Casey. Some of them expressed their motivation for participating.
“I THON for family and friends close to me who lost their battle,” Tercek said.
“I THON to make a difference, spread hope, and help children and their families in the fight against cancer,” Zeigler said.
“I THON so kids have the opportunity to follow their dreams,” Shirley said. "Fighting cancer can be a difficult battle to win. We can make it easier by trying to shine some light into their world.”
Those who aren’t on the dance floor will be supporters, taking shifts of six hours on, six hours off to sleep and keep up the grooving morale. Among those backers is Mont Alto senior Keighley Taylor, overall chairwoman.
“I THON so every kid can be a kid, have more birthdays and smiles,” Taylor said. “I THON so families know they are not alone during this battle. THON is a family that is continuously growing and supporting one another. THON is so much more than a dance party. It is fighting and uniting together to hopefully end pediatric cancer. I THON so every cub can become a Nittany Lion.”
This year, more than 60 students will represent Penn State Mont Alto at THON, four of whom will be dancing.
Since 1977, the massive, yearlong effort has supported 4,000 families and raised more than $168 million for Four Diamonds, which offsets the cost of treatment that insurance does not cover, as well as expenses that might affect the welfare of a child with cancer. The organization enables more than 30 specialty care providers to serve the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs of patients and their families.