Five years ago, a dance marathon fundraiser was little more than a line item on a Greek Week schedule of events, lasting 12 hours but with only eight dancers left standing by the end of the day. That year, they raised a little over $16,000 for Greenville Hospital System.

Fast-forward to 2015, when the dance marathon was rebranded as Clemson Miracle and organizers partnered with Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. Since then, Clemson Miracle has raised more than $100,000 for the Greenville hospital and has become the largest student-run fundraising organization in Clemson history. For the past year’s marathon alone, Clemson Miracle registered just under 500 dancers and grew 107 percent  in fundraising. They expanded their executive board from 25 members to 60.

Now this year, on April 1, Clemson’s annual Dance Marathon kicks off at 10 a.m., and has its highest fundraising goal yet: to raise $110,000 for sick children.

Students participate in the dance marathon event Clemson Miracle.

Clemson Miracle, the dance marathon event, has raised more than $100,000 for Greenville Hospital System and has become the largest student-run fundraising organization in University history.
Image Credit: Provided by Clemson Miracle

Stepping into service

The Clemson Miracle organization flourishes at the hands of Clemson students who have one goal: to stand for those who cannot. Specifically, to stand, dance, and celebrate their Miracle Kids for 12 straight hours. All funds raised are donated to the Children’s Hospital at GHS, where the hospital cares for more than 360,000 sick infants and children each year. This year, a portion of the money will be used to purchase cameras for the NICU, so parents can stay connected with their sick infant when they cannot be bedside.

It seems too good to be true — that hundreds of college students willingly give up a Saturday to serve children they’ve never met, but that is Executive Director Courtney Hund’s favorite part.

“I love seeing how invested college students are in helping kids. People tell us to be selfish in college, since it’s our last opportunity before entering the real world, but with Dance Marathon you get to see our generation be selfless for a little while and pay it forward,” she said.

Hund, a senior, is no stranger to thinking outside the box in order to reach fundraising goals for nonprofit work. “We all get creative. I once wore a tiger onesie to my sorority formal to raise money, and I was happy to do it,” she said.

While Hund joined Clemson Miracle in search of a worthy philanthropy, others have a more natural connection to the cause. For Events Director Anna Katsis, it’s personal.

“I was a Miracle kid in Indiana. I was born with a tumor on my right cheek and had 14 surgeries. Seeing all of those kids who didn’t know my family or me take the time to help us out really sparked my appreciation for Children’s Miracle Network,” she said. “I think I have a greater appreciation — everyone knows it’s for the kids, but a lot of people don’t know just how much this support means to Miracle kids and families.”

Moved for a cause

Beyond the opportunity to be selfless and raise money for a worthy cause, those deeply involved with the Dance Marathon have been able to parlay this passion into a career. With a network of more than 450 similar marathons across the country, all under the Children’s Miracle Network umbrella, the opportunity to explore job opportunities is not lost. Katherine Nahigian, the event’s partnership director, insists that this experience has shaped her career path.

“It doesn’t feel like work, what we do. I started off majoring in biology and then, because of dance marathon, decided to follow my heart and major in entrepreneurship management, a major that would give me more of a chance be a part of a fundraising nonprofit like Children’s Miracle Network. It’s nuts how many connections you can make. People have seen my email signature and offered me jobs right there because they were involved with Children’s Miracle Network,” she said.

It would be easy to quantify Clemson Miracle’s impact by looking only at the money, but Maggie LaPorte, the executive board’s hospital director, measures it by the visible change in the dancers. “When we have our Miracle Families come and share their stories, the dancers’ faces say what they cannot. There’s a jump in motivation and a sense of community in that room,” she said.

Making a miracle

The Dance Marathon has an almost elusive wonder to it. Those who have attended can talk about the experience, but insist that it needs to be a personal understanding. “Go to the dance marathon. It’s magical,” said Abby Pierce, marketing director. From pointing someone toward a passion to showing the influence one person can have on a community, Clemson Miracle is transformative for those who take the time to get involved.

“If you get yourself there on that Saturday I promise you will fall in love. It’s the best way to understand what we’re about,” says Katsis.

At the end of the day, fundraising is more about the first half of the word — fun. With lip sync battles and Miracle Kid autograph stations, the marathon aims to celebrate the hard work of volunteers and honor the kids who benefit from it all. By the time the total raised is posted at the end of the day, the executive board assures participants that the sore feet are well worth it.

“The sense of accomplishment that you feel at the end is unlike anything you’ve ever felt. It’s so powerful,” said Pierce. After all, it’s for the kids.

 

The Clemson Miracle Dance Marathon starts at 10 a.m. Saturday, April 1 in Littlejohn Coliseum. This will be the first student-run event to be held in the newly remodeled Littlejohn. The best way to get involved is to go, experience and dance, but donations are always welcome. For more information about how to get involved and to register or make a donation, visit clemsonmiracle.com.