A choreographed dance. A kick line. A young man wearing a trash can over his head. It may sound like your typical Psi U party, but all of these antics have been building toward something different in the last few days.
This past Tuesday, Oct. 1, marked the kickoff of WesTHON’s yearlong fundraising project. The occasion was marked with a flash mob in Usdan and was followed up by days of stunts and attention-grabbing displays in order to raise awareness for the group and its goals.
“Basically WesTHON is a fundraiser for sick and injured children at CCMC [Connecticut Children’s Medical Center],” explained Co-Executive Director for WesTHON Shane Ross ’19. “Every year we put on really fun fundraisers for all students on campus to try to help the next generation of hospitalized children.”
Ross co-leads the group, Wesleyan’s chapter of the national program THON, whose goal is to raise money for local children’s hospitals. THON began in 1973 at Penn State in an effort to raise money for childhood cancer research, raising a little over $2,000 in its first year. Since then, THON has spread to dozens of colleges and universities across the country, typically spearheaded by the Greek organizations at large state schools. Both the national and university organizations are run by students.
“THON is a student-run philanthropy committed to enhancing the lives of children and families impacted by childhood cancer,” their website reads. “Our mission is to provide emotional and financial support, spread awareness and ensure funding for critical research—all in pursuit of a cure.”
Wesleyan’s chapter has co-opted this mission on a local level, aiming to raise awareness and funding for CCMC and other local hospitals. But Tuesday’s event was about more than accruing donations.
“This was basically to draw awareness to the event that we’re planning Friday night from three to seven in Zelnick Pavilion,” Social Media and Advertising Chair for WesTHON Alec Haas ’20 told The Argus. “We will be having children-themed games like ring toss, mini basketball, cornhole, dunk tank, and pizza in a carnival style.”
About 15 members of the group came together to support this goal on Tuesday night, getting up to dance on Usdan’s loud side around 7 p.m. The routine lasted about two or three minutes, ending with a kick line, a WesTHON banner, and Co-Executive Director Grant Hill ’20 announcing their goals via megaphone to whoever would look up from their fajitas to listen.
“Today [Oct. 1, 2018] is National Child Health Day,” Hill told his audience.
As he went on to explain the upcoming event on Friday, the WesTHONers behind him began dancing to Daft Punk’s “One More Time.” He explained that the goal was to commemorate the idea that they want to give children another chance to live a healthy and happy life, despite illness or injury.
“One more time,” Hill said, summing up the purpose of the Usdan performance.
As the performers handed out lollipops after their flash mob, The Argus was able to talk to WesTHON’s leaders and catch up on the history of their group.
“I was actually one of the founding members of Wesleyan’s WesTHON my freshman year,” Ross said, talking through the four years that the chapter has been active on campus.
Today, there are 17 members on their executive board, all students, and all with different responsibilities. What unites them is a deep-rooted interest in helping children.
“Our yearlong fundraising efforts culminate in a six-hour dance marathon, which is a carnival where students from Wesleyan hang out with patients from CCMC,” Ross continued. “It’s a way to give kids a day outside of the hospital that generally they remember for years to come.”
The day after the flash mob, members could be seen collecting donations outside of Usdan most of the afternoon. This is where that young man wearing a trash can with “WesTHON” painted on the side could be seen, collection bucket in hand. The students involved hope to see a good turnout for their carnival on Friday and continuing turnout for all of their fundraising and volunteer activities. Last year, WesTHON raised about $25,000 for children’s hospitals. This year, the team hopes to double that, starting with their first official event on Friday.
“Hopefully we can see you all on Friday night,” Haas said. “The events will all be free, everyone’s invited. We’ll be accepting donations. We’re just here to raise awareness and hopefully kickstart a great year!”
Spencer Arnold can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emma Smith contributed reporting for this article.