Smile Politely

The great vision of the Illinois Dance Marathon

Last year, the Illini Dance Marathon impressively fundraised over $60,000. The marathon is hosted by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Illini Dance Marathon is an annual event that raises money for the Children’s Miracle Network that directly benefits St. John’s Children’s Hospital in Springfield, Illinois. Next week, Friday March 14th, participants will dance and participate in a range of lively activities from sundown to sunup starting at 8pm and ending at 9am. This nightlong event is in its sixth year and is the Children’s Miracle Network’s to hallmark annual fundraiser. I sat down with the Vice President of Fundraising and Sponsorships, my friend Justin Rinaldo, and he told me about this great cause and his vision for its great potential.

Justin is a senior at the University of Illinois. He has participated in the marathon for the past three years. His first experience with the marathon was participating with his his APO Fraternity. Afterwards, he not only enjoyed the experience but wanted to be a part of the planning committee to reach out and generate awareness for the marathon. He was inspired to be more involved after meeting with the resilient children and families who are touched by this event. The donated money benefits the children at the hospital by providing toys, medical supplies, treatments, and comforting measures for the families. Justin said that the fundraising has blossomed in the past few years and there has been an increase in participants since his first year, and he would like to see the event become even bigger.

The marathon is student oriented. Students organize the fundraising and planning committees over the summer. The student executive board works with a program coordinator and development officer from St. John’s Children’s Hospital out of Springfield. Throughout the school year, students sign up as participants for $20. Over the course of both semesters, the students participate in many fundraisers including Miracles Mondays at Joe’s Brewery (if you mention this to your server, a portion of your bill will be donated to the cause). The participants are encouraged to raise a minimum of $150 before the big event of the Dance Marathon. Student who raise more are entered to win raffle tickets for prizes and other great incentives.

The marathon is held at the Activities and Recreation Center (ARC). At the ARC, benefiting families visit the event in the beginning of the evening. Throughout the event the families get on stage to share their stories to the participants. Justin said this part of the event is really important. “Hearing all the families talk is my favorite part because then you can really put a face to the donation.” To see the families that will be benefiting from the hard work and fundraising that the students do all year is fulfilling. Every hour throughout the marathon the participants learn a sequence of dance moves that are put together like a flash mob. In one night they learn the dance and perform it in the morning for the children and their families at the end of the marathon. Every hour other campus organizations such as The Other Guys, the Illinettes & the Xtension Chords show their support and have performed in the past to keep the dancers motivated to stay on their feet until the morning when the families return. Participants in the event stay on their feet for the entire night to symbolize how the tiredness or discomfort they experience from standing is a small fraction compared to what some of the children in the hospital feel every day.

During the opening ceremonies participants welcome the families and childrend by forming a human tunnel.

As a committee member, Justin has had the opportunity to become really close with some of the families at the St John’s Children’s Hospital. Justin had said the Family Day Picnic is fun because this is a time that the executive board can interact with the children and their families before the event.

Justin Rinaldo with Jordan Planitz

The Dance Marathon is a great program that runs across the United States and works with universities, colleges and high schools to fundraise money for the local Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. Some schools have had the program for many decades. The financial goal for Illini Dance Marathon is $100,000 this year. Justin hopes that this program continues to get bigger and increase in participants every year. Only students are allowed to participate, but all donations are accepted and can be made here online at the site. If students miss the registration deadline (this past Monday) they are still allowed to visit the event for a few hours upon making a donation of $25 or more. Students can also go to the Illinois Dance Marathon site if they are interested in getting involved for next year’s Illinois Dance Marathon as a participant or a committee member. All donations for this great cause are accepted by the Champaign-Urbana community until the event on next Friday, March 14th.

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