When Michael Bucy founded UNC Dance Marathon in 1999 as a student, he hoped to alleviate some of the burdens for patients and families of UNC Children’s Hospital.
“Having a sick kid is a lonely fight,” he said. “For me, this is our chance to come together as a community to show the kids at the children’s hospital and their parents that they’re not alone and that we are here for them with dollars and with support and with everything else that we have.”
Bucy’s vision was a 24-hour event where participants dance through the night to raise money that goes toward providing emotional, medical and financial support to the patients and families of UNC Children’s Hospital.
When the first UNC Dance Marathon took place, 75 students participated and raised $40,000. Two decades later, hundreds of dancers took to the floor in Fetzer Gym this March 23 for the annual event, raising $434,139.
Now known as Carolina For The Kids, the student organization has raised nearly $6 million for the UNC Children’s Hospital over the past 20 years.
Money raised through the event helps fund three program areas: The For The Kids Fund, which provides funding for things that insurance doesn’t normally cover such as utility bills and gas cards; Parent’s Night Out, which provides a free, weekly hot meal for families to enjoy together; and grant money, which is given to the hospital for equipment and also to researchers who are working to improve the quality and success of care for the children.
“I’m really proud of how far the Dance Marathon has come in the last 20 years,” Bucy said. “It has become an institution at Chapel Hill, and I love how each group students takes it, makes it their own, adds to it and makes it even better.”
With the organization’s growth throughout the years, UNC Dance Marathon has expanded into more than just one annual event. In 2015, organizers renamed the group to Carolina For The Kids to represent the change. It is now the largest student-run fundraising organization in the state.
Carolina For the Kids Executive Director Hannah Dix explained that her passion for the organization comes from a love of service and the community that is fostered at Carolina.
“When I think about helping families at UNC, I’m thinking about helping families that are also Tar Heels,” Dix said. “Everyone that walks through the door at UNC Children’s is a Tar Heel and I think that that’s the Carolina way — to help them and do everything we can to make their experience in Chapel Hill as wonderful as so many of ours have been.”
Throughout the past two decades, the For The Kids Fund has provided assistance for 20,000 families.
“The thought of being there for them is something that keeps me and a lot of members of our organization excited and loving what they’re doing,” Dix said.
Students participating in the Dance Marathon see their impact firsthand during the last two hours of the event when children and their families are invited to come out on the floor and share their stories.
Despite the broad impact of the organization, Carolina For The Kids still emphasizes the fact that each dancer is making a difference for the patients and their families.
“Just showing up to the marathon or raising your $200 has such a huge impact on the patients and families, because just $200 can help a family afford gas, can help them afford meals, can help them afford a stay,” said Dara Burg, the organization’s publicity chair. “Being able to see the difference that you are making in someone’s life is something that’s really incredible and everyone should get a chance to experience.”