NEWTOWN >> The 2019 Rock-A-Thon transformed the gym at Council Rock North into one of the hottest venues in Bucks County Friday night with pulsating lights and the latest dance music.
But it was the cause that had many of the more than 300 students energized as they danced the night away for others during a four hour mini-marathon.
The dance, which has taken place at the high school for the past 12 years, was inspired by Penn State’s IFC/PanHellenic Dance Marathon, aka THON, which raises funds to fight pediatric cancer. But the CR students wanted to “put their own spin” on the event by keeping it local, earmarking its dance marathon proceeds for charitable causes directly impacting their communities.
This year, student government leaders chose the Bucks County-based Autism Cares Foundation founded to enrich the lives of those with autism today and build a brighter tomorrow.
On hand to say thank you and to cheer on the high school students were representatives from the Autism Cares Foundation, including co-founders Linda and Frank Kuepper of Richboro.
“It’s just a fantastic feeling,” said Linda of the dancing taking place in the nearby gym. “It can’t help but bring tears to your eyes and warmth to your heart.”
“They are generating miles and miles of smiles,” added Frank. “They could be home playing video games and out doing other things, but they are here devoting their time doing fundraising for this organization.
“I just totally admire their enthusiasm and the purpose at their young age that they have,” he continued. “They are empowering themselves for the future to help kids with autism and themselves. It’s just totally awesome.”
Hearing the music emanating from the gym took the Council Rock High School graduate back to 1974 and an impromptu performance by the English rock band, “The Who,” inside the same gymnasium.
“It was a publicity stunt by the band. ‘Let’s show up at a high school and play.’ That was 1974 right here in this gym,” he said. “It was mind boggling.”
While “The Who” wasn’t on the playlist at Friday night’s dance, all of today’s hottest dance numbers were, spun by Pulse Entertainment as lights flashed throughout the darkened gymnasium.
This year’s Rock-A-Thon was organized by the Student Executive Board (SEB) and led by super chair and Council Rock North senior Jake Cohen. He was assisted by event chairs Veda Allam, Baruni Palayam, Ellie Halterman and Luke Costello.
According to Cohen, planning for the event begins in September and kicks into high gear in November when members of the SEB pick a charitable cause to support.
This year, Luke Costello, president of the 100-member strong Autism Cares Foundation Club, made the winning pitch out of a field of eight potential charities.
“Having Autism Cares as our charity gave us a great sense of the familiar,” said Cohen, adding that the Rock-A-Thon is “all about having a good time for a good cause.”
Past dances have supported such groups as the Yardley-based Plant A Seed Inspire a Dream Foundation; Camp Can Do, a Chalfont-based camp for kids battling cancer; Drew’s Hope, a research foundation named for Newtown Middle School student Drew Ferrandino who passed away in 2014 from Batten Disease; and the historic Newtown Theatre’s digital projector capital campaign.
“I was excited,” said Costello of the SEB's vote to support Autism Cares this year. “I called Linda almost immediately to share with her the good news. We were really honored that the students thought we were worth supporting,” said Costello, who has been a vocal advocate for Autism Cares at the high school.
“For us, we’re at a dance on a Friday night,” said Costello. “But for a lot of these kids, they’re not at a dance on a Friday night. Autism Cares does a really good job of giving them the much needed social outlet that everyone needs and some aren’t fortunate to have.”
Linda and Frank can’t say enough about Luke.
“Luke’s an amazing individual,” said Linda. “No one in his family has autism, which makes his devotion even more impressive. For him to get in front of the committee and sell our organization is just inspiring.”
“I give these kids so much credit,” added Frank. “These are just good kids who have a mindset of helping others. It’s just very impressive. If I had a trophy taller than this school I would be awarding it to them tonight.”
The event raised an impressive $14,055 for the foundation, which was presented by the SEB in the form of a check at the halfway mark of the Rock-A-Thon.
The proceeds will be used to make a difference in the lives of children, students and young adults with autism.
“This is very much going to help and keep us moving forward and the growth of the foundation,” said Linda.
Proceeds, added Frank, will also support the foundation’s adult program for those over the age of 21.
Meanwhile, back inside the gym, the dancing continued and so did the energy level while out in the lobby students took breaks, enjoying smoothies from Smoothie King and an ice cream bar compliments of Chartwells, the district’s food service provider.
The work it takes to put the event together is impressive, said SEB faculty advisors Drew Battista and Michael Fink, both English teachers at the high school.
“This is entirely student-driven. After they pick their cause, the kids go all out in terms of marketing, publicity and fundraising,” said Battista.
To raise awareness and boost participation rates, the students hold fundraisers leading up to the event at local restaurants, including Chipotle, Chick-Fil-A and Greenstraw Smoothies to name a few.
“They’ve been working since the end of last school year, organizing and setting up fundraisers, reaching out to businesses, designing the logo,” said Battista. “It’s a really impressive effort by the students. And it shows in the amount of money they raise.”
“For me, the best part of the night is when we all go out onto the gym floor, refocus on why we are here, present that check and hear the appreciation,” said Fink. “It just makes your heart feel good.”