Standing together for hope

More than 1,800 Carolina students will stand and dance to as many as 500 songs during the annual Dance Marathon to raise money for the UNC Children’s Hospital.

People dancing under black light.
The 19th annual UNC Dance Marathon begins Friday, March 24, in Fetzer Gymnasium.

On Friday evening, more than 1,800 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill students will come together to stand – and dance – for 24 hours to help the patients of UNC Children’s hospital.

The Carolina for the Kids Foundation’s 19th annual UNC Dance Marathon begins at 7 p.m. in Fetzer Gymnasium. The participants have pledged not to sleep or sit until the event ends at 7 p.m. Saturday.

The dance marathon is the largest of many events sponsored by the foundation, a nonprofit that works to financially and emotionally support the patients and their families of UNC Children’s. Since the inaugural UNC Dance Marathon, Carolina for the Kids has raised more than $5.4 million, including more than $614,000 last year.

To help the foundation reach its goal this year, more than 400 Carolina for the Kids volunteers worked together to recruit 1,800 student dancers, coordinate 51 food vendor donations, book 30 student group performers, select a 500 song playlist and oversee all of the logistics needed for the 24-hour-dance-a-thon.

This year’s UNC Dance Marathon theme is Together We Stand.

“Together We Stand demonstrates that everything we do, we do together, said Elizabeth Brown, a senior sports administration major and the Carolina for the Kids executive director. “Nothing could function without everyone coming together. Even if everyone is there for a different reason, they are there to achieve the same end goal – to support the patients and families of UNC Children’s.”

For Jacob Blount, a junior majoring in advertising and the Carolina for the Kids publicity chair, a personal connection to the children’s hospital helps motivate him to stand. Blount was born with a foot disorder and underwent many surgeries when he was young.

“Without those surgeries I received, I would not be able to walk today,” said Blount. “It really hits home for me to plan and attend an event in which you stand to support these kids. I know I would not be able to participate if it was not for the children’s hospital.”

To keep morale high during the dance marathon, the foundation schedules a variety of activities, including an evening of games, an early morning walk and a rave at 11 a.m. Saturday. A highlight of the event is the kid co-captain talent show that features some of the patients who have received treatment at the children’s hospital.

“Some play the drums, some tell a joke, some sing the alma mater. At this point we are at hour 21, and being able to see those kids have a platform to do something fun brings a lot of joy,” said Blount. “In that moment, they overcome the fact that they have an illness or are receiving treatment, and just enjoy themselves as kids.”

“Playing with the kids and watching them perform is a true reminder of why we are standing,” said Claudia Lemon, a senior biology major and a fourth-year participant. “This entire event is so much bigger than ourselves, and it’s wonderful knowing we are helping others.”

Even though it is physically exhausting, Brown said that the UNC Dance Marathon demonstrates what happens when passionate people work together.

“For me, UNC Dance Marathon means hope. It may seem cliché, but hope is what motivates every single person to stand together for 24 hours and is what reassures every single patient and family member at UNC Children’s.”