17th annual Dance Marathon exceeds fundraising goals, helps 3 nonprofits

Harley Nefe, Reporter

With over 320 participants, 27 teams and over 1,260 donations, the 17th annual Dance Marathon raised over $48,800, surpassing its $45,000 goal. 

Dance Marathon is a 15-hour dance party run by Appalachian & the Community Together, in which each participant is asked to raise $150 leading up to the event, and they dance to celebrate the lives of children, according to Dance Marathon’s First Giving webpage. 

“It’s been very fun and very energetic,” said Dance Marathon participant Tanita Brunson, a junior childhood development major. “I can’t wait to see how long I can last.” 

Dance Marathon 2020 lasted from 10 a.m Feb. 15 until 1 a.m. Feb 16 at Legends, with the mission “to encourage Appalachian students to look beyond themselves and our campus community and advocate for the present and future wellbeing of kids and families in the High Country,” according its website. 

In previous years, money raised from Dance Marathon benefited two local nonprofits: Western Youth Network and Parent to Parent Family Support Network. However, this year, Dance Marathon helped an additional organization: the Back 2 School Festival.

“We found out there was an application process that Dance Marathon wanted to help a third nonprofit that does stuff for children in the community, and so, we applied, and we were very excited,” said Kendra Sink, board chair of the Back 2 School Festival.

Back 2 School Festival is an annual event that aims to help “any Watauga County families struggling to afford the high costs of sending their children back to school,” according to its website. 

The Back 2 School organization also has a storage unit that has bins stocked of supplies throughout the year, Sink said.

“We would love to see the students know what the Back 2 School Festival is because I think a lot of folks here don’t know the poverty in Watauga County,” Sink said. “They don’t understand that 32.5% of all Watauga County students qualify for free or reduced lunch.”

The Back 2 School Festival will receive 10% of the proceeds of Dance Marathon, Sink said. 

I like to dance, and I like community service and one of the big perks (of Dance Marathon) is that you actually get to meet the families that you help.

— Ruth Mazza

“We’re hoping that maybe there are other organizations in the school that are looking for a nonprofit to help with, and we’re hoping that (being a part of Dance Marathon) gets us on the radar for some of those organizations to be aware of us and to help when they can,” Sink said.

The 2020 Back 2 School Festival is Aug. 8. 

Representatives from WYN and Parent to Parent Family Support Network also attended Dance Marathon. Each organization had a moment to speak to the crowd about its nonprofit and tell stories. 

WYN has been around for 35 years and works to intervene in the root causes of trauma and advocating for trauma-informed policies and practices, according to its website. 

“We started with mentoring,” said Angela McMann, director of mentoring for WYN, to the audience at Dance Marathon. “It’s kind of like a big brother, big sister model.”

WYN has a community-based program, where individuals spend two hours a week, each week, for a year with a kid, McMann said.

“You do fun things,” McMann said. “You go out in the community; you recreate; you play frisbee; you play basketball; you make crafts; you make slime; you dance. We’ve got really awesome kids who need mentors and who really love hanging out.”

Parent to Parent Family Support Network has been around for 31 years and provides “free support, caring connections, information and hope to families who have a premature baby, a child with a disability, an emotional or behavioral challenge, a mental illness, a chronic health condition or to families who are grieving the death of a child,” according to its website.

“We are really here to serve a wide range of families,” said Kaaren Hayes to the audience at Dance Marathon.

Hayes is the Parent to Parent Family Support Network program director and outreach coordinator for Watauga and Avery counties.

Some of the families that are being helped by the Parent to Parent Family Support Network were present at Dance Marathon to share their stories with attendants.

“I like to dance, and I like community service and one of the big perks (of Dance Marathon) is that you actually get to meet the families that you help,” said Ruth Mazza, a senior management major.

Dance Marathon 2020 is Mazza’s third Dance Marathon. However, this year, Mazza was a dance captain, individuals who are designated to help others and answer questions.

“The first time I was here freshman year, I was like, ‘I want to (be a dance captain),’ and here I am, so I feel like it’s inspirational, but it also holds you accountable in terms of trying to make sure everyone’s OK and has a good time,” Mazza said. 

Dance Marathon supporters also had performances throughout the event from groups like the Swing Dance Club, Ear Candy, Entropy Dance Crew and Royal Dynasty. 

Breakfast, lunch and dinner were donated from various companies in the community, such as Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s, Arby’s and Come Back Shack.

Participants of Dance Marathon were encouraged to bring costume changes for the four different themes and costume contests throughout the event. The themes included dream job, early 2000s attire, wacky tacky and fire and ice.

Attendants also took part in crafts and activities such as giant Jenga, hula hooping, cornhole and ladder ball. 

When asked for tips on how to keep energy levels up for the duration of 15 hours, Mazza said to eat carbs and drink water. 

“Don’t worry about what you look like,” Mazza said. “Just find some friends, goof off. The more comfortable you are with the people you are around, the more your energy just naturally goes up.”