By Kelcey Norris
Youngstown State University students were on their feet dancing, socializing and listening to the stories of families, parents and children from Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley on Feb. 20.
YSU’s charity dance marathon, Guinathon, raised a record amount of $60,028.44 for Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley.
When participants entered the doors of Kilcawley Center, they received a colored team T-shirt and a hospital wristband to wear for the day. The dance marathon lasted eight hours.
Guinathon is a part of the Miracle Network Dance Marathon, which is a movement of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, a nonprofit organization that raises funds and awareness for more than 170 pediatric hospitals.
One family that Guinathon has directly affected is the Plant family. Sarah and Chris Plant have had more than their fair share of hospital visits with their three children.
Rebekah Plant, their oldest daughter, underwent open-heart surgery at only four months old for breathing complications. Sarah Plant said her daughter had a hole in the top and bottom part of her heart.
“The doctor said we were looking at heart surgery. … I just thought, ‘Oh my gosh, your giant hands are going to work on this tiny baby heart,’” she said.
Rebekah Plant’s surgery was successful, and today, her mother said she’s just like any other 8-year-old girl and is full of life.
“It’s things like this and people like these students who make this all possible,” Sarah Plant said.
Sam Plant, their second child, is allergic to nuts, tree nuts and seeds, and those allergies brought the growing family right back to the hospital on numerous occasions.
Sarah Plant said although her family was fortunate to have most of their medical bills covered by insurance, there are many families who aren’t so lucky.
“We’ve been in the hospital sitting next to people who say, ‘My kid is so sick and I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if I can pay for it or not,’” she said. “It’s scary. … It’s so amazing that the students are here today for all of the kids who can’t get their care paid for.”
Taylor Phillips, a junior early childhood education major, participated as the team captain for YSU’s First Year Student Services team.
Phillips said she began her work much earlier than Saturday.
“I raised $1,260 this year, and I actually started right after Guinathon last year,” she said. “I asked for donations from a bunch of companies, and I did raffles and giveaways on my social media. … Just constantly asking everybody that I could for donations.”
Phillips said she became involved with Guinathon her freshman year, seeing the group as an opportunity to help children in need.
“They just looked like a really fun group of people,” she said. “As an education major, I love kids and thought this would be so much fun. … Each year, I try to go as far as I can and do as much as I can.”
To participate in Guinathon, team members need to raise a minimum of $50 to qualify, and according to Phillips, she and many other participants go beyond the minimum.
“Getting involved with Guinathon is so easy,” she said. “Everybody thinks that $50 is so much to raise, but it’s really not. Once you start going it’s almost like you can’t stop.”
Katie Biller, a senior human resource management major, participates in Guinathon as the morale captain and said anyone who joins as a volunteer or dancer will not regret the difference they’ve made.
“YSU’s dance marathon stems from something truly meaningful,” Biller said. “If meeting some of the sweetest, most grateful kids isn’t a good reason for you to join, then a newfound appreciation for your health is. Good health is a blessing many of us take advantage of.”
She said meeting the families pushes her to participate and keep morale up during the event.
“Throughout the event, you hear about what the Miracle families went through at the hospital. That’s really all the motivation you need,” Biller said. “Those eight hours really fly by when you hear about how hard these kids fought. You realize eight fun-filled hours is nothing.”
She has been involved with Guinathon for four years and said she has seen it grow immensely thanks to student involvement.
“Every year, Guinathon gets bigger and better,” Biller said. “The executive team really dedicates so much of their time and energy to fight for these kids and a cause they truly believe in. It’s amazing to experience firsthand. I’m truly thankful for the dedicated few who made this possible.”
Toward the end of the event, the participants came together in a circle surrounding three of the Miracle families. After blowing out a candle, the kids went around the circle and cut the wristbands off the participants.
Sarah Plant said cutting the hospital bands represents hope for a healthy future for all children and symbolizes a new beginning.