Syracuse University Magazine

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Dancing for a Cause

Colorful balloons and posters with slogans like “There is a superhero inside all of us” decorate the Goldstein Auditorium. Kim Pritt and her 13-year-old daughter, Victoria, who stands 3-foot tall, walk on the stage as hundreds of audience members dressed in silver sparkles gather around. “She is my hero, just like you are all my heroes,” Pritt says, speaking through tears.

At age 6, Victoria was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which has prevented her from absorbing nutrients from food and stunted her growth. Since then, she has taken medication to sustain her life, but now her story is shared and celebrated, thanks to OttoTHON, a dance marathon that is the work of the largest student philanthropy group on campus.

Founded by executive director Jillian Lynch ’17, OttoTHON became an official student organization in fall 2014. Since then, it has organized two 12-hour dance marathons, one in February 2015 and the second in December. Together, the two events raised more than $150,000 for children battling diseases, and their families, at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital in Syracuse, shattering the goal of $100,000. “I am so proud of everything that we have been able to do for the kids,” Lynch says.

OttoTHON is part of the nationwide Dance Marathon founded in 1991, where dancers from more than 450 universities and high schools have interacted with children’s hospital patients and raised more than $106 million for the Children’s Miracle Network, which includes Upstate Golisano among 170 associated hospitals nationwide.

Dr. Thomas Welch, pediatrics department chair at SUNY Upstate Medical University and medical director at Upstate Golisano, says the money raised from OttoTHON has helped the hospital upgrade the facilities that provide children with a comfortable environment when they are receiving treatment, including such equipment as emergency pediatric resuscitation carts. He expresses appreciation for the fundraising campaign, telling the dance participants, “Because of what you are doing, these children and their families are able to relax a little bit, and they are especially grateful to know that the young people in the community care about them.”

Throughout the marathon, there was a lot of dancing, music, and fun. Many of the OttoTHON executive board members and nearly 450 dancers played with the 16 children from Upstate Golisano, tossing them balls and balloons and dancing with them. “It’s just amazing to see the college students have such empathy and go out of their comfort areas to help others they don’t even know. It’s great. We are very humbled,” Pritt says after leaving the stage.

11-year-old Alexa has been undergoing treatment for an immune disorder for more than nine years. She says her favorite moment during the marathon is dancing and the fact that OttoTHON raised money for the kids. Her mother, Alicia Glenny, felt great to see her daughter dance on the stage. “We may have to do this forever,” Glenny says, referring to the treatment that Alexa receives. “The money raised goes to all the programs to make her comfortable and stay a little better.”

Laurie Koller ’18, the dancer relations chair for OttoTHON, says the marathon has been a wonderful experience. “We want to spread the love and passion,” Koller says. “OttoTHON is way more than what I could get from the classroom.” —Jessie Shi

Photo by Steve Sartori