‘Mini’ event makes huge impact at SWASD

Statistics from the American Cancer Society reveal that almost one out of every three people will battle cancer at some point in their lifetime. But for the past eight years, students in the South Williamsport Area School District have been fighting back.

What began in 2011 by senior politics teacher Ryan Carper as a way to engage students in philanthropy, has far exceeded expectations, boasting an eight-year cumulative total of $207,287.82. The district’s Tiny- and Mini-THONS, this year held Feb. 22 and March 1, respectively, raise money for the Hershey-based Four Diamonds, an organization devoted to putting a stop to childhood cancer by “assisting children and their families through superior care, comprehensive support and innovative research.”

South’s local extension of Penn State’s signature 46-hour dance-a-THON involves 12 hours of overnight activities. Held this year in honor of three individuals battling cancer — Elliot Storms, fifth grade, Olivia Rogers, seventh grade, and Liz Frey, learning support teacher — the event, to date, has brought in $27,408.67. Recognized through a banner in the gym, announcements made at school and as part of the opening ceremony, shirt colors also represented these beloved members of the district.

“The colors were specifically chosen by the individuals themselves,” said Michael Rodgers, social studies teacher and co-advisor of the event. “So, while the shirt represented our event and charity, the colors represented these individuals, specifically. It was just a way to offer some support for them and their families as they’re undergoing their own fight with cancer. We just wanted them to know that we support them, we’re standing with them, and we just wanted them to come, amidst a difficult time, and have some fun at our event.”

According to Rodgers and Michael Allison, science teacher and co-advisor, money is raised from difference sources. Donations are accepted at football games through a process they call “canning,” and also through sandwich sales and donations solicited at local businesses. The majority of the money, however, comes from donations collected by the student body.

“Each student has to raise a minimum of $60 to attend the celebratory Mini-THON event at the end of the fundraising period,” Rodgers said. “Obviously, some students raise a lot more than that. This year, our top student donor raised $800.”

In an effort to give elementary school students an opportunity to experience a portion of what Mini-THON is all about, Allison said Tiny-THON was created three years ago, this year raising $2,424 toward the overall goal.

The pair’s roles as advisors can sometimes be a tricky one, Rodgers said.

“It’s walking a fine line between empowering students and then getting out of their way while still holding them accountable and making sure that the club is acting responsibly in different ways,” he said. “We keep track of all the tasks that need to be completed and the deadlines for those tasks. We schedule and facilitate meetings and basically do our best to introduce students to this kind of work and to help them navigate their way through it.”

Senior Sam Livorno has been involved throughout each of his high school years, this year serving as president of the Mini-THON Club, a group of ninth through 12th grade students that meets every other week during the school day, along with plenty of meetings taking place during free time, as well.

“I am very passionate about the club and what it stands for,” Livorno said. “I felt that I can put some really cool ideas into this year’s Mini-THON and that’s what drove me to run for president. But nothing would have been possible without our advisors, Mr. Rodgers and Mr. Allison, or the club.”

It can be a long 12 hours for the high school students who commit to the overnight (junior high students are required to leave by 11 p.m.), but there are plenty of activities to keep the momentum going. Highlights from this year’s event include, of course, plenty of dancing, black light hours, a 1 a.m. three-legged Mario Kart race throughout the school’s hallways, volleyball, human foosball, an inflatable obstacle course and the traditional hair cutting ceremony. About a dozen students had their hair cut at this year’s Mini-THON.

“It gives the chance to literally give a piece of themselves to the cause,” Livorno said. “Their hair will go to making wigs for people who lost their hair to the side effects of chemotherapy.”

Students also enjoyed food items throughout the night, donated by area businesses and community members, and added paint to a mural designed by Lilly Eiswerth and the school spirit committee. All of this in celebration of a job well done and with the honorees and Four Diamonds families in mind.

“Through the help of the Four Diamonds, patients and their families never receive a bill while receiving treatment for cancer,” Rodgers said. “In bigger circumstances, Four Diamonds might even give them money to cover groceries or their home mortgage.”

The Turners are just one family out of thousands that has experienced the outpouring of support from the organization. When Christina was diagnosed at 13 with leukemia, her mom, Patti Jo, said she wondered how the family’s needs would be met — how their rent would get paid or if they’d be able to put food on the table — since their husband had taken a leave of absence to be by their daughter’s side for every appointment, procedure, surgery and medical intervention.

“As parents, you never want your children to be aware of your worries, but not getting a paycheck for months is a huge worry,” Turner told students during opening ceremonies. “We had really good insurance, but we had two other kids and a regular life to maintain for them.”

Enter Four Diamonds. The organization not only ensured that Christina received the best medical care possible, but paid the family’s rent for several months, provided gift cards for groceries, paid every co-pay related to her treatments and, most importantly, allowed the family to have a normal life under the circumstances.

“Fast forward to now,” Turner said. “Christina is 36, living in Denver with her husband and two little girls of her own.”

The Turner’s then-six-month-old baby now is a senior at Penn State, where she became involved with THON as a freshman.

“What an unbelievable chain of connection,” Turner told the group, as they began the countdown to the official kickoff. “You dance for the kids, you dance for their families and you dance for their futures.”