BELLEVILLE - A quiet Friday night in Belleville was disrupted last week when about 80 local students gathered to smash cars and blast music - all in the name of curing pediatric cancer.
It was a documentary called "Why We Dance: The Story of THON" that inspired students at Belleville Mennonite School to do something in support of the student-run philanthropy at Penn State University. The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, also known as THON, raises money for the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital. According to the event website, the Four Diamonds Fund is used to offset the cost of treatment that insurance does not cover for pediatric cancer patients.
"We were motivated by that," explained Meredith Spicher, BMS junior and co-chair of the school's mini-THON.
Freshman and co-chair Ally Echard said students decided, "let's have our own, and let's make it big."
Planning started in January and culminated in a 15-hour mini-THON held from 6 p.m. May 10 to 9 a.m. the next morning at the school. Friends from every youth group affiliated with students at the school were invited, Spicher said, and since Mennonites aren't supposed to dance, there was mostly volleyball playing, movie watching and glow-in-the-dark gaming going on. Even so, students said there were a few songs that couldn't keep participants off their feet.
Among youth groups and community guests, Echard said one special visitor stood out from the rest.
"One of our Four Diamonds kids, Clay, came," she explained.
Cancer survivor Clay Hamman, 10, of Petersburg, received support from the Four Diamonds Fund and attended the event to tell his story.
"Anytime someone has a sickness ... (everyone's) hearts just go out to them," Echard said. "The kids have so much ahead of them."
She explained that hosting a mini-THON helps raise money to support children and their families as they cope with the disease. Money was raised through a number of fundraisers in school and at the event, Spicher said. One of the most notable was "Kiss A Cow." Spicher said the committee set out a cup for each of six seniors at the school to collect money in the form of votes. Whoever had the most money in their cup at the end of the fundraiser had to kiss a cow. There was only one catch - Spicher said if seniors raised more than $300 total, they all had to participate.
"We reached that, so they all kissed it," she said.
Other fundraisers included a chance to smash an old car, pie eating contest, faculty baby picture contest and more.
"It's a relief to see it all come together," Spicher said of the event.
By about 11 p.m. Friday night, the long day was finally beginning to catch up with the students. Luckily, there were plenty of fun activities planned for the early hours of the morning, including "Midnight Madness," which was set to feature glow-in-the-dark games and blacklight activities.
"It's gonna be awesome!" exclaimed Lex Fogleman, BMS sophomore.
Others were looking forward to playing manhunt, sardines or just watching the "stupid things people do" when they get tired.
"I'm just here cause I hate sleep," BMS sophomore Jake Knable said, laughing.
Jokes and games aside, the students who helped organize the event said they were excited to bring a little taste of THON to Mifflin County. When asked whether the work was worth it, Knable said "it's not work."
"It's just another way we can show God's love," Echard agreed.
"I think it's cool to reach out to the community," Fogleman added, explaining that many people don't know about THON even though Belleville is close to Penn State Univerisity.
At 8:45 a.m. Saturday morning, the final total of the students' fundraising effort was revealed. The first mini-THON held at BMS raised $4,603.61.
"It's good to know there are good things that come out of (Penn State) and show that this area of Pennsylvania cares," Echard said about efforts to defeat pediatric cancer, adding that, "I believe we can do that."
Jill Fleming, BMS learning support teacher, and Brittany Yoder, guidance counselor and gym teacher, also helped organize and supervise the event.
For more information about Belleville Mennonite School, visit www.bellevillemennoniteschool.org.