May 26, 2019 | 78° F

Dance Marathon breaks past fundraising record

Photo by Maya Nachi |

Dance Marathon volunteers hold up numbers on stage at the College Avenue Gym to announce the final amount of money raised for the Embrace Kids Foundation.

Thirteen may be an unlucky number, but not for the members of Rutgers University Dance Marathon.

The 13th annual Dance Marathon, the largest student-run philanthropy in the state, raised $380,351.10, edging out last year's record of more than $378,000.

About 410 dancers, about 30 less than last year, filled the College Avenue Gym to stay on their feet for 32 hours straight, all to raise awareness and donations for kids with cancer and blood disorders.

Danielle Bechta, director of Community Outreach, said the organizers decided to enforce dancer registration this year, prohibiting anyone who did not raise the required $350 on time from dancing.

They wanted to ensure they enlisted more dedicated dancers, as some in the past would not raise the required amount of money to participate and take the place of a more dedicated participant, Bechta said.

The group also tried to recruit more non-greek, first-time participants, she said.

"It's great that we have so many brand-new people passionate about this cause," said Bechta, a School of Arts and Sciences senior.

Proceeds will go to the Embrace Kids Foundation, a New Brunswick-based charity that helps the non-medical needs of children with cancer and blood disorders. The foundation helps families with their medical bills and provides other services, like tutoring and emotional support.

"It's helping the kids now, instead of going toward research," Bechta said.

Emily Amador, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences first-year student, benefited from the work of the Embrace Kids Foundation first-hand. When she was diagnosed with cancer last year as a senior in high school, the organization helped her family cope with her illness.

For example, the foundation sent a child care specialist to her hospital room every day, to ensure she was not bored.

When she came on campus last fall, she decided she had to sign up for Dance Marathon.

"I did not just want to participate in Dance Marathon to gain community service, I wanted to give back and support the charity that helped me and my family out the most," Amador said.

Many of the involved organizations "adopt" a child that benefits from the Embrace Kids Foundation and interact with them throughout the year.

"It's really wonderful what they're doing for these kids," Bechta said.

Carla Volpe expressed her gratitude for the members of Chi Psi fraternity — which raised more than $18,000, the most for a fraternity — for their help with her son Johnny, who was diagnosed in May of 2009 with leukemia.

"The Embrace Kids Foundation helps us emotionally and financially," Volpe said.

The members of Chi Psi visit 8-year-old Johnny in the hospital, play games and activities with him and invite him to the Chi Psi lounge on College Avenue for dinners, she said.

"We love them," Volpe said.

Elysha Padilla, assistant director of Community Outreach, worked with the 25 families in the program year-round.

"It's definitely been one of the most eye-opening, life-changing experiences I've had," said Padilla, who was a dancer last year.

Padilla said the children in the organization inspire her.

"Any time I'm having a bad day, I think of the kids. … When I look at what they go through every day, there's nothing we can't get through," Padilla said.

Chelsea Sammons, an Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy graduate student, was dancing for the first time this year — and the first time for her pharmacy honor society, Rho Chi — for her organization's child, 5-year-old Gabriel.

Rho Chi interacts often with Gabriel, who was diagnosed in 2009 with leukemia. They threw him a bowling birthday party and in a few weeks will host a picnic in his honor.

In the final moments of the marathon, Sammons, who raised $500, said it was a challenge standing for 32 hours straight with no sleep.

"My feet hurt. It hurts when I stop [moving] because it starts to throb," she said. "But it's all worth it."

Mary Diduch

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