EMS THON recap: an insider’s perspective

Wednesday, March 11, 2015 - 12:40pm

By Kathy Cappelli

For the fifth year in a row, the EMS THON raised the largest amount among general organizations for The Four Diamonds, fighting pediatric cancer. See related story: http://news.psu.edu/story/346670/2015/03/02/academics/ems-thon-5-peat


Student dancers and committee members say the THON families and EMS THON esprit de corps are why they do it.

Photos: Amanda Henderson


Somewhere about halfway through the 2015 Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon—it was right before the pep rally, dancer Jenna Loffredo recalls, though time was a little fuzzy—she had what she calls a “holy cow.”


“I thought then that we’re closer to the end than the beginning,” she said. “And I had to give myself this little pep talk, like, you’re going to do this, you’re going to finish this. Sitting down isn’t even an option.”


As a dancer for the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences (EMS) THON organization, Loffredo, a third year student in communication sciences and disorders, and her six fellow dancers stood for 46 hours to help raise $137,763.29, making them the top-earning general interest organization for the fifth year in a row. This was part of the $13,026,653.23 raised as this year’s total. But the money is not why many come to EMS THON, nor why they stay.


“EMS THON was where my heart really was because of the families,” said dancer and EMS THON Executive Director Carly Hinton, a fourth-year student in environmental systems engineering. “I felt so much love and really saw the tangible impact that we were making on their lives. I really knew that being involved with EMS THON was where I could make the biggest impact, and that’s all I really wanted to do.”


EMS THON has 3 families, the Woods, Hollingers, and Brewers; all visited at various points of the weekend. “EMS is unique because we have so many kids involved,” Loffredo said. “We have eleven, going on twelve.” Their ages range from zero to twenty-eight, she said, and it was the first THON that the Brewers’ four year old grandson was able to attend. “We’ve been paired with two of our families, the Brewers and the Woods since THON 2004, and they’ve really grown up with all of us. They’ve watched people come and go, and they still love us even though we go through college,” laughed Loffredo. She and Hinton both said that they’d dance again “in a second.”

“Even your worst moments are the moments that really show you why you’re doing what you’re doing,” Hinton said.


EMS THON  students

EMS THON dancers pose with org members on the floor.


Three geography students serve on behind-the-scenes committees.


Maggie Norton, a third-year geography student, and Grant Smith, a second-year geography student, were both on Dancer Relations committees this year. Jena DiFrisco, a third-year geography student, was on a Special Events committee. “It’s really cool being selected for a committee because you get to help out in different ways than you do through a [THON] org,” DiFrisco said, adding that there was a lot more behind-the-scenes planning and logistics that only various committee members get to see.


DiFrisco said she has been on a different committee each year, and “I loved each one.” Norton agreed, “It was great seeing a different side of THON this year as a DRCM [Dancer Relations Committee Member]. I had a lot of friends who were dancing, and I got to help them out, see them go through highs and lows. THON is a lot different from the floor.”


Smith, who also spent a lot of time on the floor as a DRCM, said that the best part was playing with his dancer’s THON child. He also remembered the total reveal during the final four hours, which he described as “out of this world.”


“I was across the BJC [Bryce Jordan Center] in the upper bowl so I had a good view of EMS, and I waited as they announced the orgs all the way up to one. When they got to one, I pretty much knew it was going to be EMS THON, but the fact that it was, and that the total was so much higher than expected was just a great testament to the passion of this group, the willingness to volunteer that this org has.” He laughed. “I was the only one in that section who freaked out—I went totally nuts.”


Part of the reason that EMS THON has been able to raise so much over the last five years is the alumni, Norton explained. “They’re a great example that the passion for THON doesn’t end when you leave the Penn State bubble. It’s a lifelong thing that you carry with you.”


Norton and the others all credit the upperclass students of the org—some of whom are now alumni—with getting them involved. Students are first introduced to THON at TOTEMS (Total Orientation to Earth and Mineral Sciences). “I think that one thing we try to keep as tradition is that upperclassmen serve as pretty outstanding leaders and really great role models—for everyone—not just for THON. We have a great culture in that sense in our org,” said Hinton.


Norton said that one of the first things she noticed when she got here was how passionate the upperclassmen were about THON, and EMS THON specifically. “And I was like, I want to be just like them, just as passionate as them.”


The first thing that happens after TOTEMS, Norton explained, is that the orientation leaders say, “hey, Wednesday we’re going to have a meeting, and all these people you’ve just gotten to know are going to be here,” then they hook you with a family story and an inspiring THON video. “Why would I want to go anywhere else? I have it here; I have these cool people that I really like. This is it, this is where I’m going to find my groove,” Norton said.


“Once you get involved, you realize that there are other orgs out there, but you don’t want to join another one,” DiFrisco said. “You’ve made connections with these people, and their energy and passion is just really contagious.” Loffredo said that something she finds inspiring is that nothing is forced. “You’re not forced to go on canning trips, or to meet the families; they’re things that you really want to do.”


Hinton, as a graduating senior, is getting ready to join the ranks of EMS THON alumni, and said that she will be supporting her org from California, where she is taking a job as an environmental engineer with Chevron’s El Segundo refinery.


Loffredo wants to be the Family Relations chair for EMS THON again. Norton’s goal is to be the EMS THON overall next year. Smith plans to try out for a committee again, and DiFrisco is going to apply to be a captain next year.