Dance Marathon at the University of Florida celebrated its 20th anniversary over the weekend by raising a record-crushing $1.5 million for UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital, Gainesville’s Children’s Miracle Network Hospital.
More than 800 UF students stayed awake and on their feet for 26.2 hours Saturday through Sunday at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center to symbolize the long periods of pain and obstacles pediatric patients and their families face, said Jamie Heekin, the overall director of Dance Marathon 2014.
“This weekend is more than just a 26.2-hour stand,” Heekin said. “It’s a celebration of the miracles in these kids’ lives and a time to recognize the efforts of more than 5,000 students who have worked and contributed to make this event the most successful student-run philanthropy in the Southeast.”
The event included a closing ceremony that attracted several hundred spectators, friends and families and ended when student organizers revealed this year’s grand total of $1,528,330 — a 30 percent increase over last year’s $1,169,722. All money raised is donated to Children’s Miracle Network at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital for research, technology and diversionary activities for patients, such as video games and art projects.
Scott Rivkees, M.D., chair of the department of pediatrics at the UF College of Medicine, addressed participants Sunday, thanking them for their efforts.
“After 20 years of Dance Marathon, you are part of an important legacy that has touched the lives of more than 2 million children,” he told the students. “On behalf of the physicians, nurses and staff of the pediatrics department and the kids, we thank you. Today, you are all pediatricians.”
With the event’s tagline, “For the Kids” visible on headbands, signs and temporary tattoos, students danced alongside patients and heard stories from Ambassador Families, reminding dancers why their efforts are so meaningful.
“It gets pretty exhausting, and it’s hard to keep your mind off the fact that you have been standing for more than 24 hours,” said Matt McKernan, a senior mathematics major who was dancing in his third Dance Marathon. “But when the families are on the stage, we understand why we are doing this, and it keeps you going.”
More than 6,000 student volunteers, participants and supporters plan the event and work to make it the success that is has become.
Dance Marathon at UF began in 1995 with just 79 dancers, who stayed on their feet for 32 hours and raised $12,424 for the children’s hospital. In the past 20 years, more than $8 million has been raised in support of the hospital and the department of pediatrics.