After setting a national fundraising record at the University of Northern Iowa’s first Dance Marathon eight years ago, organizers have an even loftier goal for this year’s event.
UNI’s largest student organization is hoping to raise $700,000 for the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital on Feb. 29. An anonymous donor has agreed to match the total dollar-for-dollar and will speak at the event.
That $1.4 million haul would shatter the group’s previous record of $680,464.
“When we started, our goal was to get $1 for each student at UNI and raise awareness,” said Emily Hanson, who is one of the three founders of UNI’s student organization. “We never dreamed it would grow at such a fast rate and become a nationally known program within the Dance Marathon network.”
The first event in 2012 brought in $56,473, which was briefly a national record for an inaugural campus event. Since then, UNI fundraisers, known as dancers, have raised more than $2.6 million.
“The main thing this organization does is spread awareness,” said the group’s campus relations director Grant Tiarks, a senior from McCallsburg, Iowa, majoring in biology. “We try to put that at the forefront of what we’re trying to do. We want people to think about children’s health and the kids that are fighting those battles at the University of Iowa.”
This year’s fundraising designation for epilepsy research and neurology equipment is special because a couple of the kids involved in the UNI program have epilepsy, Tiarks said.
All the chairs in Maucker Union will be cleared out so no one can sit from noon to midnight Feb. 29.
“And a fanny pack is essential so you can keep your hands free and be ready to dance,” said the group’s marketing director Hannah Stater, senior communications and interactive digital studies major from Mount Pleasant, Iowa.
Dancers will take over the entire building, including the Center for Multicultural Education, which will display the stories of UNI Dance Marathon families. This year, there will be a special tribute to Tristan Marlow, who was killed in a car crash Feb. 17, 2019. Marlow was a senior at UNI and active in the Dance Marathon organization.
The lower level meeting rooms will host activities like board games, crafts and video games. Something is always happening on the stages, said Stater.
That includes families sharing their stories at the top of each hour, dance-offs and a talent show. A gong will be rung for every $100 raised during the day up until donations end at 8 p.m. At 11:30 p.m., the total raised will be revealed.
Planning for the event starts in April for the following year and is done completely by UNI students.
“There is something special about this program,” said co-founder Hanson. “In addition to all the great things it does for the kids and hospital, it also develops philanthropy and leadership skills other groups can’t. It played a vital part in my development. It’s incredibly special, which is evident by its growth.”
Hanson, a UNI graduate who is now the executive director of Waterloo Schools Foundation, which raises money for the public school system, said starting Dance Marathon sparked her interest in her current career.
“I was always Interested in helping people, but didn’t know exactly which direction until I started Dance Marathon. So it’s come full circle,” she said. “It’s impacted me in so many ways and gave me some of my best friends. We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into, in the best possible way. It was really a bonding experience.”
Hanson is also an adjunct professor in UNI’s health, recreation and community services department.
Dancers must register in advance and raise a minimum of $200 to participate, a threshold thousands of UNI students have hurdled over the years. Committee members will receive a lanyard. Dancers will get a water bottle and T-shirt in addition to lunch, dinner and a snack at the event. There are fundraising opportunities at the event to meet participants’ goals.
Those still interested in participating can sign up at the event or use the code “powerofyou” to receive $10 off online registration.