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By: ANGELA CABEZAS Review Staff email@example.com, Staff Writer
Three Ephrata graduates will help battle childhood cancer this weekend during the 39th annual Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, or THON, a fundraiser that benefits the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital.
Though much of THON focuses on the 46-hour dance marathon that will be held Feb. 17-19 at Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center, THON is actually a year-round effort to raise funds and awareness for pediatric cancers. Each student group that participates sponsors one or more families of children with cancer, and this year around 15,000 students will take part, either as fundraisers, planners or dancers. Among those students are Vanessa Fetter and Caitlin Eckman of Akron, who graduated from Ephrata High School in 2011, as well as Ryan Trella of Ephrata, a 2008 graduate.
For Trella, a senior engineering science major, this will be his third year participating in THON. In the past he’s helped raise money as a member of The Society of Engineering Science, but this year he will represent the organization as a dancer.
"I’m excited for this weekend and looking forward to the opportunity to dance; it’s been on my Penn State bucket list of things to do before I graduate," he said. "I entered the lottery system for a chance to dance last year, but unfortunately my group didn’t get picked."
Trella’s role as dancer will require him to stay on his feet for the duration of the 46-hour event, with no sitting or sleeping allowed. Though this may seem like a daunting task, there will be plenty of diversions to help pass the time, including activities, a DJ and speeches by Four Diamonds families.
Unlike Trella, Fetter and Eckman will not be among the 700 students on the dance floor, but the two have helped out with THON in other ways.
"It’s hard to get picked to be a dancer as a freshman, but my THON group, the rowing team, went canning — standing on corners and holding can collections — a couple of times," said Fetter, who is majoring in accounting at PSU. "Also, some of my friends are going to be at the event as what are called moralers, giving back rubs and piggyback rides to the dancers."
Fetter decided to participate in THON after being a part of Ephrata High School’s Mini-THON, a scaled-down version of the big event, for four years in a row.
"It’s important because you’re helping out a lot of young children who are struggling and families who are having a hard time," she said. "I see it really uplifting every family’s spirit, including a child who’s been diagnosed with cancer."
Eckman, a freshman kinesiology major and another four-year Mini-THON veteran, feels the same way.
"THON is a chance for Penn State to put forth an effort to try to find a cure," she said. "We realize that it’s such a difficult thing for the children who are battling cancer and their families, so it’s an opportunity to give back."
Eckman raised money for THON as a member of Students Engaging Students, a community service and leadership group. She plans to spend her weekend in the stands of the Bryce Jordan Center, cheering on the dancers and lending moral support.
"We talk a lot about what the four diamonds mean, which is courage, wisdom, honesty and strength," she said. "I definitely think the strength these young children have really encourages us to test our limits and give everything we have. It’s only 46 hours for us, but they’re battling cancer their whole lives."
Though Eckman, Trella and Fetter all acknowledge that eliminating childhood cancer is the main purpose of THON, they hope that it will have other fringe benefits as well.
"As a whole, I think it’s going to also help the Penn State community rebuild their image after what happened this past fall with the athletic program," said Trella, referring to the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal. "I think this is going to be a good way to show the entire world that Penn State is more than just football; we are something bigger than just a name, and the students do care about the issues at hand. There’s a whole community of Penn State students willing to give back."
For more information about Penn State THON or the Four Diamonds Fund, visit THON.org. More THON, page A15