In November 2012, the Purdue University Dance Marathon will have raised more than $1 million for Riley Hospital for Children. (Courtesy PUDM)
They're dancing for up to 18 hours for kids who are often too sick to dance themselves. And raising money to boot. Students involved in the Purdue University Dance Marathon (PUDM), which has its roots in the Department of Health and Kinesiology, brought in more than $300,000 for Riley Hospital for Children in 2011.
PUDM specifically benefits the Indianapolis hospital's Cancer Center, Camp Riley, and supports families unable to pay the medical care costs. Since its inception in 2005, PUDM has provided nearly $1 million, and the student members have had many dozens of visits with patients and their families.
The University recognized this achievement in January by making PUDM the first student organization to receive the One Brick Higher Award. The award honors faculty, staff and students who demonstrate extraordinary effort to improve the lives of those around them.
Riley Hospital for Children also recognized the organization's efforts this summer by naming a patient room in the new cancer center for PUDM.
Travis Stoutenborough (HK '06) founded PUDM as a student member of the Health and Kinesiology Club in 2005. Inspired by a dance marathon he witnessed at Butler University, Stoutenborough wanted to bring the same excitement and inspiration to Purdue. "We had about 75 students that first year and raised approximately $2,500 for Riley Hospital," he says.
A three-year advisor to the organization, Stoutenborough is amazed by the difference a dance marathon can make. "It's overwhelming to see the impact it's had on so many students and more so on the number of children and families it supports," he says.
"Last year's marathon had a superhero theme," says Karlee Hepp, PUDM president and a senior in nursing. "And all of the Riley kids who were there came into the back where we were tallying the year's fundraising total and said, 'We just wanted to tell you that you are our superheroes!' That right there is what it's all about."
A volunteer at Riley during high school, Hepp got involved with PUDM her freshman year and took a position on the 24-member executive board as a sophomore. As president, she wants to continue to grow membership (up to nearly 400 from 300 students) in PUDM and increase engagement with the Riley children and families they support. Though anyone can show up to the dance, the members serve on various committees ranging from catering to entertainment options for the big event. Besides making personal visits, PUDM members also sponsor fun family events. Families have come to various Purdue days on campus, attended volleyball games and participated in bowling fundraisers.
"There are anywhere from 10 to 20 Riley families that we connect with on a regular basis," says Beka Schroeder (HTM '12), vice president of PUDM last year. "They come to the dance marathon to share their stories and celebrate with us. I always cry every year — it's unbelievable how much those kids have gone through and yet how strong they are."
Held annually in November, the dance marathon attracts more than 1,000 dancers, many actively fundraising throughout the year. The event takes place in the Armory and both Hepp and Schroeder affirm that everyone stays on their feet for the duration.
"My favorite part of the marathon is hearing the kids tell their stories and how much Riley has meant in their lives," Hepp says. "That's the motivation to keep you on your feet."
Schroeder, now a catering sales manager at the Sheraton Chicago O'Hare Airport Hotel, says she'll miss her involvement with dance marathon and considers it one of her most meaningful college experiences. There are many more PUDM alumni like her. In fact, one of Hepp's goals is to find opportunities to engage alums like Schroeder who want to continue to be part of PUDM's work for Riley.
Lindsay Van Houten (NUR '11) is another alumna who says PUDM literally helped change the course of her life. Growing up with portal hypertension, Van Houten was familiar with long hospital stays, as well as the lifesaving efforts of doctors and nurses at Riley. After getting involved with PUDM in her freshman year, she switched from liberal arts to nursing. It was no easy transition, she says, taking all science courses her sophomore year just to be able to apply.
The academics worked out for Van Houten. She was named an HHS Outstanding Senior in May, and now works as a pediatric nurse at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. But the Riley kids helped ease the path to her career. "That's the greatest thing about the Dance Marathon," she says. "The Riley kids and families are at the focus. Seeing these families and knowing I could help them even more in the future really inspired me."
Dance Marathon is a nationwide movement involving college and high school students at more than 150 schools. Since 1991, Dance Marathon has raised more than $50 million for Children's Miracle Network hospitals.