VOLthon: Dancing for a Good Cause

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The largest student-led philanthropy group on campus strives to raise money for East Tennessee Children's Hospital

Dance the night away to help out children’s hospitals is not a phrase that you hear every day. However, it is a very real thing on this campus, and it all leads back to VOLthon. 

VOLthon is a student-run organization that focuses its call-to-action around East Tennessee Children’s Hospital through Miracle Network and has been active for 29 years.

Students raise money to provide life saving medical equipment to families in need. Last year, they were able to fund a Lifeline Ambulance to transport pediatric patients with higher needs of critical care. 

The group raises money all year and comes together in February to celebrate their accomplishments with participants and families through Dance Marathon. 

For many people, when you hear about a marathon, you think of running. Dancing is not what typically comes to mind when someone says marathon, but that is one of the main ways that this particular organization fundraises. 

Director of Fundraising, Lia Whitesel, comments on why the dance marathon is so successful. 

“I think the energy is better for a dance marathon and we are able to have miracle kids and their families come and dance with us. We are also able to host many other games and events that would not be possible with an actual race,” Whitesel said. 

If you’ve been on this campus for longer than a year, then you have probably seen the advertisements or them tabling, whether that be on Ped Walkway or in the Student Union. They focus on the student body and community outreach to raise funds. 

“Over the past two years when I was part of the VOLthon staff (I was just a participant freshman year) we have raised over 170K and 160K respectively,” Whitesel said.  

The dance marathon lasts 12 hours as a way to represent a typical nurse’s shift, and that is not where the support stops. There are partnerships that happen, like with Duncan’s or Papa John’s, that contribute to this event. 

There are also many different people involved, the main group being people who register for events like this on their website. They also have team captains which are people who work as liaisons between organizations, and their internal team which handles executive decisions for the entire organization. 

Current President of VOLthon Grace Woodside expresses just how large this organization is.

“I feel like I’m running a small business sometimes, and I’m like, this is crazy,” Woodside said.

Of course, to those who participate in VOLthon, it’s more than the dance marathon itself. 

“I have spent four years with this organization and met lifelong friends along the way. It is so much fun and helps such an amazing cause,” Whitesel said. 

With events where they can interact with the children that they are helping, their impact becomes all the more real to them. 

“I have met so many people who have had family members treated or were treated themselves at a Children's Hospital. Seeing the impact that we have is incredible and makes every stressful week worth it,” Whitesel said. 

Both Woodside and Whitesel shared stories about the kids that they got to interact with through the organization and how much that just put into context the hard work that they do.

“There’s a lot of cute moments like that and those are the moments that remind me they are kids,” Woodside said. 

VOLthon also serves as a great way for people to connect through service. After all, a lot of their time is spent preparing for events like this and working hard to ensure that they raise as much money as they can, together. 

“It’s been like a home to me on campus,” Woodside said.

VOLthon is just one way that people on this campus contribute to the local community, and the community that you can find within is something that the members truly appreciate. 

This year, the Dance Marathon was held on February 17th, and members consider it the most successful fundraising year to date. Over 500 people attended, and they saw over a 20% increase in funds raised from the previous year. The group was able to raise 193K, a record breaking amount. 

If you were not able to participate this year, then you can still donate online, and they will be back next year to celebrate their accomplishments and continue to support ETCH.