For the Kids: Recap of THON 2023


The moment when the amount of money raised at THON was revealed to the THON dancers and spectators. Photo courtesy of Julia Rudin, a dancer for THON on February 19, 2023.

Eliana Kaufman, Staff Writer

Starting on Fri., Feb. 17, over 700 Penn State students danced at THON for 46 hours at the Bryce Jordan Center. These students and community members participate in THON related-activities throughout the year.  The funds they raised go to Four Diamonds Organization to fund cancer research and pay for medical treatment for Four Diamonds children. Today, THON, founded in 1973,  stands as the largest student-run philanthropy in the world. 

By raising over 15 million dollars, THON broke the 13.7 million dollar record it set last year. THON brings students together from all across campus. It is a time to help those in need while also having fun. 

Four Diamonds was founded in 1972 after a child named Christopher Millard passed away from cancer. Since then, it has helped over 4,800 children fight childhood cancer.

One student involved in THON this year is Kylie Ehrensberger, a State High Alumni who is currently a first-year student at Penn State. She participated in THON with Phi Beta Lambda, a co-ed business fraternity which she joined in the spring semester.

Ehrensberger joined State High’s Mini-THON in her sophomore year of high school. When recounting her involvement, Ehrensberger said, “In high school, my sophomore year I joined the mini-THON club, then COVID hit that spring, so we didn’t get to do much with mini-THON then and we had it online [my] junior year. I was also part of the entertainment committee then.” 

She added that, “I was an Entertainment Overall [the position] so I helped to plan and organize the event and we got to have it in person that year which was pretty cool. So, I kinda did that all through high school.” 

“[In] my freshman year of high school, a lot of my friends were in the club (I was not) and I decided to dance [for Mini-THON] that year. They were all just kinda like, ‘come on, come on,’ so I went and danced that year. I thought it was fun and my sophomore year, I decided to join the club and then junior and senior year I got involved in a bigger role as an overall in committees,” she stated. 

To make the THON experience a great time for everyone, a lot of committees focused on different parts of the dance. 

“In the entertainment committee, we had to make the line dance. We contacted people and tried to figure out where we were getting food from and get donations depending on what activities we were trying to have that year, so that we could lower our cost for the event,” Ehrensberger explained. “Then we also had to plan the games that were going on in the event and create a minute by minute schedule of what was going to happen while we were at the event. So, it was planning out the logistics of everything, and then at the actual event [my co-overall] and I were in charge of the whole event, so we would lead the line dances and we would lead the games and things like that.” 

In her senior year, there were around 80 dancers and 30-40 club members at Mini-THON. However, there were very few people during their COVID year. It was tough for them last year to build back their dancer base.

Ehrensberger added that, “When we were doing  Mini-THON, it was definitely hard to get dancers involved. A lot of people thought that it was overwhelming and really just weren’t very interested.”

Ehrensberger found getting the involvement of the community to be the hardest part of her time in Mini-THON. 

“Trying to get interest built up around the school community and getting a lot of dancers out was definitely a challenge, but once we were at the actual event, regardless of how many people showed up, everybody was there to have fun,” she stated.

Now, she is on a new chapter of her involvement with THON at Penn State.

“Mini-THON was a great transition into THON, and it was really cool to look at both experiences and continue to be apart of that, especially at Penn State THON, we’re in a community that is so close to Penn State, so we’ve always kinda been rooted in it but actually being involved was really unique,” Ehrensberger said.  

Ehrensberger continued to elaborate on the differences between Mini-THON and THON.

“When you apply [to an organization at Penn State] you get assigned a committee, whereas when I went to mini-THON at State High, I got to choose which one I was in.” Ehrensberger said, “At State High, there weren’t really many organizations there [in Mini-THON] as a group. It was more individual dancers and some clubs would come every once in a while but there wasn’t huge group involvement.”

“At THON, groups will individually join, so I went with my business fraternity, but there’s different fraternities, clubs, sororities; everybody is there with their group, which is definitely very different than at State High, where it’s more individually based,” she added.

There are also Independent Dancer Couples, who are not a part of an organization. They have to raise a minimum of $3,000 to get put into a lottery system. For every $500 they raise after that, they get another ticket put into the lottery.

At THON this year, Ehrensberger got to stand with other members of her fraternity, although only dancers and those with floor passes are allowed on the floor. 

Ehrensberger gave voice to her experience standing for THON for the first time. 

“There was definitely a lot of stuff that I wasn’t expecting, like just the experience in general, but being a part of  the organization that I was in, and it being the first semester with the group, I was really surprised at how we were all able to come together in one common cause no matter how long I had known the people for,” she stated.

“Some of them I did know before the event and others it was the first time seeing their face, but by the end I knew peoples names, I knew where they were from, I knew their interests,” she added. “So something like that, supporting such a great cause is a great way to meet people and really bond on a different level that I wasn’t expecting going in but now that I came out of it, I have some incredible friends.” 

One of the other organizations that joined THON is LEV, which is based out of Penn State Hillel. Hillel is an international Jewish nonprofit that is present at hundreds of campuses. Penn State Hillel is often described as a “Jewish Hub” by its staff. 

LEV stands for “Live Every Victory” and is also the Hebrew word for heart. LEV meets with their family all year. Some of the activities they do with their THON family include going out to dinner and buying their family members Christmas presents.

One of the LEV’s dancers, Josh Rubin is currently a second-year student at Penn State. He joined LEV last year as a member and had a 46  hour floor pass at the BJC last year. He spent 36 hours on the floor and was at THON for a total of 42. This year, he was the finance chair for LEV and danced for the first time.

His involvement in THON was a direct result of watching his sister partake in THON virtually. 

“My sister, she graduated from Penn State last year, and she actually danced her junior and senior year. Her junior year which was 2021 was virtual so she did the full 46 hours standing in her apartment and that was really the first time I watched– well, I watched it in 2020 right before COVID, I watched it online, the live stream and I sort of knew what THON kinda was, however as I explain it to people, you never understand THON until you go to the Bryce Jordan Center and you experience it with your own eyes in person.” He said “I cried countless times over the weekend, just watching the stories and everything so it was pretty impactful and just, I wanted to dance for and stand for those who cannot, which is amazing.”

Rubin used his experiences from last year to inform what he packed for THON ‘23.

He said that he packed 5 different outfits that he arranged in different Ziploc bags to make it easier to change the outfits when he was there. THON recommends socks with different levels of compression to relieve the pain in dancers’ feet. He brought a lot of fidget toys.

“So, I don’t want to have to wear the same one throughout the entire weekend. So it’ll be nice to be able to change them, and just feel different fabrics on your skin will feel nicer than having to wear the same one for the full 46 hours.” Rubin said.

He continued, “I went to THON last year. I did 42 hours last year and I wore two different outfits and I wish I brought more but I didn’t dance last year. Now I have an actual full duffle bag that I’m allowed to bring in so I’m excited about that.”

He added that, “I’m an athletic kid, so I have some sport balls that I’ll bring and there’s one that I was playing with last night that I’m really excited about that has a string attached to it so the ball will come back right away, and I picked up some candy and some snacks. Toothbrush, toothpaste, the essentials.”

THON dancers have a lot of resources provided to them, which Josh planned to utilize this year. These resources include athletic trainers and ice baths.  There are also areas on the floor that only dancers have access to.

One activity he participated in last year was silent disco. He described it as, “These headphones that they put on, and they just play music and only you can hear it, but everyone else in the same room is listening to the same songs as you are so it’s pretty fun.” 

He added, “ It’s funnier to watch if you don’t have the headphones on because then you just see people dancing and singing and they sound awful but they think they sound great. There’s a video of me just listening to silent disco and hula-hooping with no thoughts behind my eyes, just completely zoned out. So that was pretty funny to rewatch.”

However, Rubin’s favorite activity was “A fidget toy that I kept playing with, that I found on one of the entertainment tables which was pretty fun. I could not put that thing down for the life of me.”

There are many hardships that come from attending THON, one being standing for 46 hours.

“[The hardest thing] is not being able to sit down, in my opinion. That’s really the hardest part. But staying awake, as long as you’re in the Bryce Jordan Center– I could never imagine doing this virtually as my sister did– but when you’re in the BJC, the lights are on, you have no concept of time as the days go by and they’re always playing music” Rubin explained. 

During the final four hours of THON, attendees watch THON Angels, the stories of children who passed away from cancer. 

“You sort of just like black out when the stories go and you sit there and you’re just in tears,” Rubin said. 

“You’re tired at that point, beyond tired, you can’t even describe it, it’s just so emotional and you’re just tearing up.” said Rubin, “So really, any story they played during the Final Four of the THON Angels was just incredible and you don’t wish that upon anyone whatsoever and they’re just all very emotional and the whole BJC is crying at that point and they’re all tired and when those videos come on during the THON Angels you’re like that’s why I’m standing and it keeps you going,” 

LEV’s other dancer was Julia Rudin. She is a third-year student who will graduate from Penn State after the next fall semester. 

“I’m from New York, so I didn’t really know what THON was.” she said. “So when I first came to Penn State and everyone was talking about THON, I was kinda confused like ‘I don’t really know what that is’ and then I had met a bunch of people on my floor that were like ‘oh, we’re all gonna join committees’– this was my freshman year– and so I was like “oh cool, I’ll try too” and when I joined the committee and started meeting people within that committee, and they were different years– there was freshman, sophomore, junior and senior, they all shared their stories of why they were there and why they [are a part of] THON and it allowed me to understand what this truly meant and how big it was at Penn State and how amazing it is.”

Since then, Rudin has gained a diverse experience from THON. 

“My freshman year was the COVID year so THON wasn’t in-person, it was virtual so we watched the live-stream and then last year I was on a committee and I was also part of the organization through Hillel so I was at the BJC for a good majority of THON, but I occasionally went home and napped and ate food to gain energy,” she stated. 

Last year, Rudin was LEV’s family relations chair, and she is currently the head chair. As head chair, she oversees everyone and makes sure everything LEV does is completed in a timely manner.

This was her first year as a dancer, and she did different activities during the 46 hours. “I was given a bunch of activity books, so I had crosswords and different puzzles, coloring and painting,” she stated. “They had a bunch of bracelet making and lanyard-type stuff to use.”

“[I also] played with my THON child a bunch, we were throwing tennis balls around and spraying each other with water guns which was a lot of fun,” Rudin added. 

She spent a lot of time with her fellow dancers. “Going on walks with whoever was down with me on the floor, or just with Josh or even by myself, just to keep my body moving, and dancing with whoever was singing at the time and meeting new people.” Rudin said. “I would walk up to random people and ask them ‘what org are you dancing for’ and get into a conversation with them, because you might as well start talking to the people you’re going to be surrounded by for the next 46 hours.”

“A lot of it is a blur still, I feel like I’m still remembering bits and pieces,” she remarked, although she thinks that by the end of the week she will have remembered everything.

Rudin’s favorite part of the weekend was when LEV’s THON family went down to the floor of the Bryce Jordan Center for the first time.

 “We hadn’t seen them all year, so it was just a special time, because the first time we get to see them is THON, and the reason that I’m dancing is for him, and it made it all the more special,” she stated.“ [When our child and I first saw each other] we immediately hugged and were laughing and joking around and playing games.”

“Even though at times it was so painful, it was just so worth it. I remember in moments like “oh my gosh, I just don’t think I can do this,’” Rudin said, “I had so many reminders around me like ‘no, you’re here for this reason, keep going, you’re doing good.’”

“While you’re THONing,” she said, “ you’re supposed to be walking and keeping your body moving because otherwise that’s how your feet will start to cramp more. During your family hour, all you wanna do is stand there and let your emotions take over, but it’s also so difficult because you want your body to move and it’s just a difficult hour overall”.

Today, THON still holds a meaningful impact in Rudin’s life and college experience. 

“THON is very special, it’s been a big part of my Penn State career, I definitely don’t think Penn State would be the same [for me] if I didn’t do THON,” She remarked., “THON holds a very special place in my heart, and I definitely want to stay involved as an alumni and I want everyone in my life to be able to experience THON at least once because I think it’s something that everyone needs to experience.”

For community members that are hesitant about THON, Rudin left a reassuring remark.

“It is one of the most special and amazing times. It’s the best weekend of the year, and we wait all year for this weekend and it’s something that I think they need to see.” She exclaimed, “It’s not something that you can really talk about, it’s more of something you need to witness and be there for, and that’s how you understand what it really is.”