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School of Tourism and Hospitality student helps organize dance marathon to support CHOP

By: Courtney Kubitza
First Published: September 15, 2014
Topics: In the News, STHM School

There were 450 people in Mitten Hall—standing. A mélange of current Temple students and alumni were dunking chips in dip—standing. They were enjoying performances from the Temple Marching Band and the In Motion dance team—standing. They were raising over $60,000—standing.

That’s HootaThon, where sitting—even for a second—is inconceivable.

Temple’s second annual HootaThon event will be held Nov. 8 in Mitten Hall on Main Campus. The 12-hour dance marathon raises money for the Child’s Life department of Children’s Miracle Network Hospital (CMNH) at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

And a student from Temple University’s School of Tourism and Hospitality Management (STHM) is at the center of it all.

(Courtesy Melynda Link)

(Courtesy Melynda Link)

“I expect that we will hold another very successful event and be the one 12-hour stretch (where) everyone involved puts the patients at CHOP before themselves [to] stand continuously for 12 hours,” said Melynda Link, Co-Vice President of External Affairs for the HootaThon planning committee.

Link, a junior Sports & Recreation Management major and General Business minor at STHM, is an event operations intern at Cabrini College, in Radnor, Pa.

Based on Thon, the popular dance marathon that began at Penn State University in 1977, HootaThon does not just raise funds to combat pediatric cancer like its State College, Pa., counterpart. All funds raised by HootaThon 2014 will be donated to the Child’s Life department of CHOP. Dubbed HootaThon as a play on Temple’s mascot, the event gathers students to celebrate the bravery and perseverance of cancer patients.

“I had two friends who were treated at CHOP when I was under 10 years old; one with osteosarcoma, who unfortunately passed, and a friend with Wilm’s Tumor,” said Link, a native of Springfield, Pa. “I have very vivid memories of being at CHOP with my friend who passed and the last night I spent with her at CHOP. They are my inspiration, as well as the many families who have to spend time at CHOP.”

The 12-member Executive Board, assisted by various volunteer committees, began planning the event by gathering support from the student community. Students can get involved either as dancers or ‘virtual dancers,’ who don’t have to attend the event but still contribute to the cause. Temple alumni can also register to participate as alumni dancers. Dancers each donate $100 to participate and then have a goal of raising additional funds to donate to Child’s Life.

To raise the money necessary to participate in HootaThon, organizers encourage prospective participants to engage in can shakes, raffles or bake sales. They urge potential dancers to always remember that it is “for the kids” that they are making this effort.

With the fundraising dues in mind, the organization is 431 percent ahead of last year’s funds at this time, with an end goal of $100,000, according to Link. Many student organizations, including Temple Student Government and Temple University Greek life, participate in the event. Through Sept. 12, 100 more dancers had registered and the organization expects to reach capacity before registration closes.

“I was really surprised by the number of students that registered. We had over 400 dancers register the day registration ended,” Link said of the 2013 event. “I was speechless for a while. It was just incredible to see so many people register and come, and especially those that stayed the entire night.”

As a Sports & Recreational Management major at STHM, Link relies on techniques gleaned from a marketing course within her program to understand the significance of careful and informative advertisement to bolster support for the event.

“I really have come to understand how every single little detail is important,” Link said. “I really enjoy working behind the scenes and seeing everything culminate in a great event.”

Link praises the continued opportunities STHM presents, lamenting that she cannot accept “every single one,” in motivating her to continue to plan events on a scale as large as HootaThon.

HootaThon 2013 raised $60,005.75 for Child’s Life. The donation helped CHOP to continue to provide innovative and intensive care for young children suffering from grave ailments. CHOP takes the time not only to diagnose the children, create a treatment plan and oversee care, but to also find ways to live a full life while managing their illness.

“The Child’s Life department (has) pet, art and music therapies as well tutoring for kids that have to stay inpatient for a while. This department tries to make their stay as normal as possible,” Link said.

HootaThon is more than just a night standing for those who can’t, Link said. The event’s organizers, along with support from corporate sponsors such as Wawa and Herr’s, serve dinner, plan arts and crafts, and provide music, games and other programs to keep participants entertained and passionate about their night. Students hear from current CHOP patients, from Temple students who’ve received or are receiving care from CHOP, as well as messages of thanks from families touched by cancer.

“I, personally, am a huge advocate of participation, rather than emphasizing monetary fundraising.  We like to say Dance Marathon is a movement and it really has become one,” Link said.

Attempting to exceed the success of last’s year’s dance marathon, which won Best New Student Organization from Student Activities for 2012-2013, and Best New Dance Marathon out of over 70 programs at the Dance Marathon Leadership Conference in Chicago that is hosted by the national team at CMNH, could be a challenge. But this year’s HootaThon features a significant daytime portion of the event, scheduled from noon to midnight, that Link said she hopes will increase student retention. Full use of Mitten Hall to add additional opportunities for entertainment and interaction is also being planned. In the future, Link hopes to expand dance marathon in Philadelphia to the high school level.

“We just want to increase awareness,” Link said.