Four Penn State Harrisburg students to dance at THON

Photo of Max Kelly, Dejah Castro, Autumn Barber and Kellen McLendon

Four Penn State Harrisburg students will be dancers at THON 2023. The dancers are, left to right, Max Kelly, Dejah Castro, Autumn Barber and Kellen McLendon

Credit: Max Kelly

MIDDLETOWN, Pa. — Four Penn State Harrisburg students will join more than 700 other Penn State students to dance at THON, the annual dance marathon held to benefit children and families impacted by childhood cancer.

THON is the culmination of a year-long fundraising event to benefit Four Diamonds at the Penn State Health Children’s Hospital in Hershey, Pennsylvania. This year’s event will take place Feb. 17-19 at the Bryce Jordan Center in University Park, Pennsylvania.

Penn State THON is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, with more than 16,500 Penn State student volunteers who aim to provide emotional and financial support to Four Diamonds families, as well as to spread THON’s mission and raise awareness about childhood cancer. Since 1973, THON has raised over $200 million to support Four Diamonds at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital.

Penn State Harrisburg Benefiting THON was projected to raise about $40,000 this year through a series of fundraising activities that included a car wash, basket bingo, a craft fair, charity sports events and more, according to Noah Necowitz, a second-year student and the organization president. Donations can still be made online here.

The organization selected four students — Autumn Barber, Dejah Castro, Max Kelly and Kellen McLendon — to represent the Harrisburg campus as dancers during the 46-hour no-sitting, no-sleeping dance marathon. Dancers are selected through an application and interview process.

Others will attend as supporters to keep the dancers motivated throughout the weekend. Necowitz, who attended as a supporter last year, said the weekend is tough to describe without experiencing it.

“You go and see the entire place is full, and everyone is there for one reason,” he said. “Everyone knows the main reason is for the kids.”

Meet the college’s THON dancers and learn why they work to support THON:

Autumn Barber is a graduate student studying for a master’s degree in the applied clinical psychology program. She earned her undergraduate degree as a 2+2 student at Penn State Mont Alto and University Park, where she also participated in THON in a variety of leadership roles. It is her third time as a THON dancer, including during the pandemic when she danced the entire 46 hours in her dorm room.

As a “huge family and kid person” and proud aunt of eight, Barber said she couldn’t imagine learning the news that a child has cancer. The THON families she has met are the strongest and most inspiring people she knows.

“THON has played the biggest role in my Penn State story and my life. The individuals [I’ve met] and memories that I have made through THON will forever be a part of me,” she said.

Dejah Castro is a second-year student studying human resources, who joined Penn State Harrisburg Benefiting THON last year.

THON has been part of her life since she moved to Pennsylvania in the sixth grade and participated in mini-THON activities at the middle and high school levels. She’s looking forward to the opportunity to represent the Harrisburg campus with her fellow dancers and to meeting more Four Diamonds families.

“I grew up always [being] taught to help and be there for people, so knowing I can make a difference in any way to help support children with cancer drives me,” Castro said.

Max Kelly is a fifth-year student studying English secondary education and is currently completing his student teaching at an area high school.

Kelly said that when he joined THON years ago, he didn’t have a great answer for why he participated. But the real impact of the organization hit him the first time he experienced the Final Four of THON weekend — the last four hours of the event, when Four Diamonds families are recognized and share their stories.  

“I THON for those who have lost their battles. I THON for those who have won their battle. I THON for the families of those taken too young and the organizations that support them,” he said.

Kellen McLendon is a fourth-year student studying information sciences and technology. When he thinks about why he loves THON, he thinks about the THON families he’s gotten to know along the way. During his first experience at THON weekend in 2020, when he was in the stands as a supporter, he said, “I found what I should be fighting for.”

“It’s just seeing that you’re part of something bigger than yourself,” he said. Being selected as a dancer as his time at Penn State Harrisburg winds down is his way of showing he still has more to give.

“I want to leave here making a good impact and inspire people to grow Penn State Harrisburg Benefiting THON,” McLendon said. “I hope I have done so.”