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Students slip on dance shoes to benefit cause

Megan O'Neil | Friday, April 21, 2006

Students will don comfortable shoes and kick up their heels in Saint Mary’s Angela Athletic Facility tonight in order to raise money for Riley Hospital for Children in the College’s first dance marathon.

Organizers said 190 Saint Mary’s, Holy Cross and Notre Dame students have already registered to participate in the marathon, which begins at 6 p.m. tonight and runs until 6 a.m. tomorrow. The 55 members of the dance marathon committee will also take to the floor.

“Everyone loves children and everyone hates to see children in pain … so I think to do something for a hospital that never turns away families, that never turns away kids … is a really great cause,” freshman class president and marathon co-chair Francesca Johnson said.

Founded in 1991 in memory of AIDS victim Ryan White, the Riley Hospital dance marathon takes place at universities, colleges and high school throughout Indiana and raises hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. The only comprehensive children’s hospital in the state, Riley hopes to build a neonatal unit in the near future.

It was Johnson who first introduced the idea of staging the fundraiser at Saint Mary’s.

After hearing about the Riley dance marathon through her brother, a student at Indiana University at Bloomington, Johnson hoped to get the event started at her high school. But as an outgoing senior, she ran out of time.

Instead, Johnson made the dance marathon the central component of her campaign platform when she ran freshman class president at Saint Mary’s last fall. Immediately after she and vice presidential candidate Pauline Kistka won the election, they began planning.

The freshman class officers teamed up with Residence Hall Association (RHA) service chair Amy Dardinger to wade through the details of the dance marathon, including fundraising and insurance issues.

“[Initially] we were very nervous because here we are, freshman who know none of the red tape … that was why it was such a comfort to be working with Amy,” Kistka said.

The three women then had to sell the idea to Saint Mary’s student government and to the wider student body.

“I think when we first went into [Board of Governance] and ask for $5,000 dollars [the student government officers were] like ‘We are going to give this to freshman? Are they organized enough? Are they responsible enough?'” Johnson said.

The marathon is about much more than just dancing, Dardinger said, and it was difficult to describe to every curious student a night of games, food and personal interaction.

By October, Johnson, Kistka and Dardinger had assembled a committee of 55 dedicated students who were divided into seven different subcommittees including entertainment, publicity, alumni relationships and morale.

A string of fundraisers to help finance the dance marathon followed, including a freshman dance, sweatshirt sale and chapstick sale. At a campus Mass in February the collection was designated for the event and campus ministry then matched the amount with its own donation. They also received donations from RHA, Student Activities Board (SAB) and the senior class board. Johnson herself stood outside a Walgreens asking patrons for money as they entered the store and raised $500.

Members of the committee went to see marathons at Butler and Purdue to gather ideas and absorb inspiration.

“Every time we went we came back with a new idea,” Kistka said. “It just put more ambition in our blood.”

A group also traveled to Riley Hospital in Indianapolis to tour the facility and see where the money raised would be going.

Working with hospital liaison Katherine Cain the committee tailored the dance marathon to best fit the Saint Mary’s community. Each hour of the evening will have a different theme and a different activity, Johnson said. Music, choreographed dancing and inflatable games will keep participants energized, she said. They will also have the chance to meet with children and families that have personally benefited from Riley Hospital.

Participants, who paid $10 to enter, are not allowed to sit down, Johnson said, and must remain on the premise the entire 12 hours.

The committee, upon the recommendation of Cain, did not set a goal amount for tonight’s 12-hour fundraiser. Participants and committees members together sent 450 letters home requesting financially support, Johnson said.

But while Johnson would not give a specific dollar amount, she did say the College appears to be on track to break the record for the most money raised by any school at its first dance marathon. The total will be announced at the closing ceremony tomorrow morning.

Johnson said the success of the last couple of months should be attributed to the enthusiasm and organization of the committee members.

“I can’t believe it’s been this successful, it’s amazing,” Johnson said.