MIDDLETOWN, Pa. — Four Penn State Harrisburg students — Christopher Palm, Matt Rice, Heather Witherow and Garrett Baronner — head for University Park Feb. 18-20 to represent the college and dance at THON, Penn State’s annual 46-hour dance marathon to raise money for cancer research and support for children with cancer. This year marks the 50th anniversary of THON, the world’s largest student-run philanthropy.
The students, all members of the Penn State Harrisburg Benefitting THON committee, will be joined at the event by the committee’s co-advisor, Holly McKenna, and alumna Nisha Moorthy, who also will be dancing.
THON volunteers and supporters nationwide participate throughout the year in various activities to provide emotional and financial assistance for families battling childhood cancer. The yearlong efforts culminate with THON. With Four Diamonds at Penn State Health Children's Hospital as its sole beneficiary since 1977, THON has raised more than $190 million.
Meet the Penn State Harrisburg dancers:
As the public relations chair for the Penn State Harrisburg Benefitting THON committee, Palm is responsible for running the social media accounts and spreading the word about the importance of THON. He has been involved with the committee since 2018, but this is his first year dancing.
“[THON] is important to me because children deserve better in their lives. They deserve a brighter future,” Palm said. “This is one of the main reasons why we have THON. We can raise awareness, and we can raise donations to help … with special activities and cancer research and treatment at Penn State Children's Hospital in Hershey.”
Rice, the committee co-chair, helps organize and run fundraisers, contacts local businesses to schedule events, and assists in ensuring that the committee runs efficiently. In this position, Rice enjoys interacting with the campus and the community to help raise awareness about an important cause. He now gets to take his mission to the dance floor.
“Dancing for THON is both the greatest honor and the greatest responsibility because you get to not only represent those who have won their fight, but also those who haven't,” Rice said. “I am so grateful that I get this opportunity. Nothing on earth is comparable to THON and the emotions and power it has, so I am incredibly excited to dance.”
THON is an important part of Witherow’s life. After her aunt lost her battle to cancer a week before THON 2020, Witherow still decided to dance with her friends, who helped her to grieve. Now, she returns that favor by serving as finance chair of Penn State Harrisburg’s committee and by dancing at THON.
“I am so excited and honored to be selected as a dancer for THON,” Witherow said. “I can once again return to the floor as a dancer to support the kids, spend time with the organization that has become my family, and dance alongside my best friend Alena Keen from Penn State DuBois!”
Baronner, the financial captain for Penn State Harrisburg Benefitting THON, began his THON journey in high school. He attended THON with a family whose daughter had been diagnosed with cancer. She lost her battle, but her journey made a significant impact on Baronner’s community.
“Seeing the impact that she made on our community inspired me to do all that I can to help families that are in the same situation,” Baronner said.
Although he said he is nervous to be a THON dancer, he is grateful to have amazing people by his side to raise money for pediatric cancer research.
A swim instructor at Penn State Harrisburg, McKenna also co-advises the Penn State Harrisburg Benefitting THON committee. She has been involved with THON since 2012 and has started her own effort, Swim for a Cure, where she and the students participate in a swim marathon to raise thousands of dollars for THON. Since THON is held at University Park, McKenna wanted to create an event here at Penn State Harrisburg that gets the students active and encourages them to support THON. The annual swim is usually held at the Penn State Harrisburg swimming pool.
Although she initially started raising money for THON because it was a good cause, it quickly became a passion for her when a young family member was diagnosed with cancer and received support through Four Diamonds. Now, McKenna hopes to keep raising money for childhood cancer research by dancing at THON.
Knowing that standing for 46-hours may be as challenging as swimming for days, McKenna is getting ready. "[I’ve been] walking a lot, doing stretches, trying to stay on my feet as much as I can, so hopefully we’re prepared,” McKenna said. “We’re super excited.”
When McKenna was selected to dance at THON, she was allowed to bring a guest. Knowing Moorthy never got to dance at THON despite being a huge supporter, McKenna asked her former THON committee member to be her guest.
As a 2+2 student, Moorthy started her college career at Penn State Harrisburg before moving to University Park. She graduated from the Smeal College of Business in May 2020 with a degree in marketing. While working with the Penn State Harrisburg Benefitting THON committee, Moorthy developed a strong relationship with McKenna. When McKenna needed a dance partner, she thought of Moorthy.
“[McKenna] is a super special individual and to have her remember that I never got to dance while I was a student was very meaningful to me,” Moorthy said. “I am so grateful to be going on this journey with her and absolutely cannot wait to stand for 46 [hours].”
To learn more about THON, visit donate.thon.org.