HootaThon: A ‘humbling’ 12-hour day for charity

The student-run fundraiser surpassed its $400,000 goal.

The Morale Team leads HootaThon dancers in a group dance in the Liacouras Center on Saturday for the fourth annual 12-hour dance marathon. BRIANNA SPAUSE | PHOTO EDITOR

Brian Cupitt wiped a tear from his eye on stage on Saturday when he held up placards that showed the organization raised more than $404,000, surpassing this year’s goal by more than $4,000.

“I think for me what makes it worth it, is seeing the actual impact that we have,” Cupitt, the executive director of HootaThon and a senior strategic communication major, told The Temple News.

HootaThon, a 12-hour dance marathon to raise money for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, took place in the Liacouras Center for the first time instead of in Mitten Hall, where it was previously held. In 12 hours, HootaThon raised more than $34,000 from walk-in donations, raffles, merchandise sales and social media fundraising.

The event is affiliated with Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, which sponsors student-run charity events at colleges and high schools to benefit children’s hospitals. HootaThon’s donation will go toward helping children and families at CHOP with pediatric illnesses.

Gaelen McCartney, a 2016 fibers and material studies alumnus, helped kick off the first HootaThon in November 2013. He said he was excited to see the event move to the Liacouras Center this year.

“It took me about 30 minutes to even enter the Liacouras Center because I was so emotional,” said McCartney, who now works as the dance marathon manager for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. “I dreamed about it being in here freshman year and … I’m so proud of the student leaders and what they’ve done the last few years.”

In his position, McCartney helps 20 schools in the northeast region start dance marathons to raise funds. He said he likes that the funds raised for the Children’s Miracle Network stay local to the community in which they are raised.

“[It] means the funds that we’re raising, especially here at HootaThon, is coming from people in the community who really just want to support the local hospital,” he said.

Cupitt said about 600 people showed up to dance on Saturday.

For MaryAnn Thackrah, a junior psychology major and the 2017 director of finance, HootaThon hits home. When she was a child, her sister was diagnosed with diabetes at CHOP, and she said she was able to see the hospital’s Department of Child Life’s work, like art therapy and disease education.

She added that the department taught her how to give a shot on a rubber doll and “made [her] comfortable with the equipment,” in case her sister ever needed help.

Thackrah said she has spent the last year working on allocating funds to other HootaThon committees.

The committee members’ year has also been spent fundraising in various ways, like canning at concert tailgates in the city and restaurant fundraisers at places on campus like Potbelly. When dance marathon season approaches, Thackrah said HootaThon pushes for student organizations to host fundraisers.

InMotion Dance Team raised the most per person, with each of the 16 members raising $240. The dance team hosted “Operation Collaboration,” a fundraiser in Spring 2016 that featured performances from other dance groups. They asked people to donate at the door and sold T-shirts.

“It’s fantastic because we only require a $100 minimum [per person,]” Thackrah said. “Collaborating with everyone is a huge thing.”

To keep people motivated over the 12-hour period, Cupitt said they have a director of morale and a committee dedicated to getting people “hyped up.”

“We do a morale dance every hour, which helps as well,” said Cupitt who added that they also have themed hours, like Disney hour and superhero hour. Thackrah wore a cape that said “FTK” and Cupitt dressed up as a character from the Pixar film “The Incredibles,” dubbed with a Children’s Miracle Network logo.

They also had pediatric cancer survivors come and tell their stories, including Courtney Simmons, a senior nursing major at St. Joseph’s University who has been speaking at HootaThon since its first year.

Maeve Sears, a senior risk management and insurance major who danced at the event, said the day puts everything into perspective for her.

“When you’re having a bad day or if I am complaining about my back, it’s actually ‘you are so lucky,’” Sears said. “Some kids can’t do it and then all of the [miracle] kids who come and talk about the stuff they’ve been through is really humbling.”

When Thackrah found out that they surpassed the $400,000 goal, she threw a wad of money in the air in excitement. Last year’s goal was $215,000, which they exceeded by about $65,000, she said.

Thackrah will serve as the executive director for next year’s HootaThon. She said she hopes to continue the concept that collaboration between everyone involved is key.

“It starts at the top,” Thackrah said. “So setting the examples for the people I oversee, and the people they oversee and then the dancers … because we can’t do it without them, so it is important that we are all in the same boat and pushing for [the same] goals.”

Emily Scott can be reached at emily.ivy.scott@temple.edu or on Twitter @emilyivyscott.

Grace Shallow contributed reporting.

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