Drexel Dance Marathon, an organization dedicated to supporting Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, including Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, won two nationally recognized awards at the Dance Marathon Leadership Conference in St. Louis in early August.
Brought to Drexel University’s campus in 2020, Drexel Dance Marathon hosts various fundraisers and events all year round to connect students with miracle families, which consist of children who have received or are currently receiving medical treatment at CHOP.
One award was the Miracle Maker award, which is given to programs in different monetary categories that have a significant increase in fundraising percentage compared to the previous year.
According to an article from Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, Drexel Dance Marathon “increased their fundraising by an incredible 340% to raise $28,832! In comparison to their 2022 total of $6,539 this year’s total was over $22k more than last year.”
External Director Caroline Ries, a third-year biomedical engineering major, and Internal Director Jami Tomczyk, a senior nursing major with a minor in health service administration, explained the effort that was put in throughout the past year in order to obtain such an achievement.
“We shifted our mindset and we really realized that we needed to go back to our roots and the reason behind what we’re doing and our ‘Why’s, which is a big thing we try to implement throughout our campus,” Tomczyk said. “We can really show our students like we’re not just doing these for some imaginary kids, like we’re doing these for real kids as a part of our program at a hospital fighting for their lives a couple blocks away.”
“Since CHOP is so close… I feel like that’s very powerful for our program,” said Ries.
Drexel Dance Marathon held several fundraising events throughout the year, including restaurant partnerships and succulent sales. One fundraiser that did particularly well was a merchandise sale with clothing that had pictures of Philadelphia-related icons and drawings from the kids of the miracle families.
“As we’re growing, we’re hoping to do more fundraisers that kind of unite the campus more in a sense,” said Tomczyk.
Drexel Dance Marathon also won the Ryan White Award for Overcoming Adversity at the conference. Each year, this is only given to one program “whose experience in overcoming a significant obstacle best exemplifies Ryan White’s spirit and perseverance in the face of adversity,” according to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.
In addition to the struggles of raising sufficient funds to reserve university space, Drexel Dance Marathon was notified that every participant would need “to be credentialed including a fingerprint and background check done three months prior to [dragonTHON],” according to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.
This had not been a problem previously because the club started when most people were not on campus and did not have miracle families yet. With over 300 people signed up to attend their biggest event of the year, the organization knew this would not be possible. As a relatively new organization on campus, Ries and Tomczyk expressed how it was initially difficult to work with administrators who were not familiar with dance marathons. Eventually, they were able to develop a yearly contract for miracle families to sign that would allow them to be on campus and interact with students.
The dragonTHON event was six hours long and consisted of food, games, a line dance every hour and stories from the miracle kids, ending with the fundraising grand total reveal.
“It’s emotional to see at the end of the event, to see them being like, ‘This is how much we have raised!’ and it’s not just about the money,” said Kelly Blumenthal, whose son Finn had lifesaving open heart surgery at CHOP and is one of Drexel Dance Marathon’s original miracle families. “They could have said ‘We raised six dollars!’ and get really excited. It’s about the community. It’s about the inclusion of feeling like you’re one of them, and for that particular day, you kind of don’t think about the medical stuff because some of those students even have their own medical journeys that they’ll open up and share… with the kids.”
Ries, Tomczyk and Blumenthal all expressed how the interaction between Drexel students and miracle kids positively impacts both parties.
“I really feel like it’s a great organization because it truly is a win-win and that’s without even touching on the monetary part of it,” said Blumenthal.
For Drexel students, “it gives them an opportunity to do something more meaningful and deeper,” according to Blumenthal. “I feel like it really grounds you… like if you’re stressing for a test or…the social life that…kids can go through which can sometimes be challenging especially nowadays and it just sort of grounds you to just be like… ‘Okay, there’s a bigger…purpose in all of this.’”
In getting to know the students through one-on-one peer matching, “It gives us a way to cheer them on,” said Blumenthal regarding exams and other normal challenges college students face.
For the miracle kids, talking to a college student about life unrelated to their medical condition is refreshing and motivating.
“Kids really look up to other kids… I mean my kid definitely thinks adults are cool but when they have a college kid…it’s much more relatable and it also gives them a goal,” said Blumenthal. “Education is important to us so I’m able to say, ‘Hey, look, education is important but it’s not everything. There are other things that make you well-rounded as well, and look, they’re going to school and they’re still giving their time… helping others… and having [a] purpose instead of just… doing classes, partying, and going home. There’s more to it, you know, than that.”
Despite being in Virginia, Blumenthal explained the support her son and their family receive when they are away: “They’re not just a cookie cutter organization…They have so many different avenues of communication…At the events that we couldn’t attend that we were excited to attend, they FaceTimed us from the event [and] they introduced us to everybody.”
When they travel to CHOP, Blumenthal expressed how she values the unique support her family receives from Drexel Dance Marathon members: “We’re from four states away and 90 percent of the time my husband can’t even come up, we have to divide and conquer…When we have procedures…we’re not going to feel alone and he’s going to have a buddy up there and we’re going to be able to talk about things that he wants to talk about, it’s not a medical professional sitting down with him.”
“The biggest thing is that these families really know that…they do have cheerleaders and we’re here to cheer them on,” said Tomczyk. “They have everybody they need in the hospital. They have their doctors, their nurses, their therapists, all that, but sometimes… the thing they need most is those cheerleaders, those people who remind them that…life may not be how they expected, but we’re here every step of the way and we can cheer them on and we can be there for them and we can offer them normal kid things, whether that’s coming to a basketball game or soccer game.”
Depending on the child’s mobility, Drexel Dance Marathon members suggest other activities to interact with the kids and families, such as going pumpkin picking, to lunch, or playing games. In the past, members have created personalized posters for their miracle kids and waved to them through a window at CHOP.
In the future, Ries and Tomczyk expressed that they want to increase involvement across campus: “I feel like there’s not that many ways that people on Drexel are…united… so we want to be that [organization] where everyone can find a place and make it more known that no matter what your interests are, no matter what your skills are, you have a home in Drexel Dance Marathon,” said Ries.