VJM seniors bringing ‘Hope’ back with dance-a-thon

NORTHAMPTON TOWNSHIP >> After experiencing the unity and love that Mini-THON brought to their school four years ago, the event’s co-chairs decided they wanted to bring it back, but in a brand new way.

So Villa Joseph Marie High School seniors  got to work planning “Hope-A-Thon,” a completely student-run dance marathon committed to raising awareness and funds for charity.

Now, with the event just weeks away, the excitement level is growing as last minute fundraisers are underway and a flurry of text messages are whirling around cyberspace as final plans begin falling into place.

Gianna, Hailey, Mary Ellen and Maria Middleton, who had co-chaired Villa’s Mini-Thon four years ago, began creating the massive fundraising vehicle from scratch in 2020 with a new recruit, Brooke, who joined the ‘Hope-A-Thon’ cause.

The pandemic, however, had other plans. It forced the group to delay the event from September 2020 to April 2021.

Sadly they also lost their friend, Maria Middleton, who died in October 2020 after a valiant battle against cancer.

The girls, however, kept pushing forward in spite of the pandemic and now in memory of their dear friend, Maria, who continues to inspire them every day from above.

“Knowing how hard a school year this has been, this is an event for ‘Hope,’” said Brooke. “We’ve had more than 320 girls register. And all those girls are just as excited as we are to be giving back to the community and just to be excited about something again.”

“We also want others to experience what we felt four years ago at Mini-THON,” said Hailey. “The day is filled with so much love and support from the entire community. It’s just something we want everyone to experience.”

“Hope-A-Thon holds a special place in my heart because it emulates Villa’s motto - Always More, Always Better, Always With Love,” said Gianna. “What we’re doing is part of that motto. We’re doing always more. We are working so hard on this event, all culminating on April 16. And then there’s always with love, which is the day of the event. It really is indescribable. You have to experience it to understand. There’s just so much love among the Villa community. And everyone is working together, all sacrificing the day for people who we don’t even know.”

The seven hour “Hope A Thon” is scheduled to take place outside on April 16 on the grounds of the school in Northampton Township. There is no rain date. “If it rains, we may just wait it out in our ponchos,” said Gianna.

The event will feature live music provided by a disc jockey. In addition, students will hear family testimonials from the event’s beneficiaries - “Bringing Hope Home" and "Drew's Hope,” two Pennsylvania-based foundations that provide families with financial assistance and bring awareness to cancer and Batten disease.

According to Hailey, “Bringing Hope Home” is a nonprofit based in Chester County that provides “unexpected amazingness” to local families dealing with cancer through financial and emotional support. It was founded in memory of Nicole Isenberg, a 39 year old mother of two who lost her battle with Stage IV Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2003.

Drew’s Hope is based in Newtown and was founded by Tony and Katie Ferrandino after their seven year old son, Drew, was diagnosed with Batten Disease, a neurological disease that affects motor skills and senses. After a courageous fight, he passed away on Sept. 30, 2014.

“I grew up as a neighbor and friend of Drew’s. That’s why this is very special to me and I wanted to bring it to Villa,” said Brooke. “He was always very bubbly and very happy, even in the worst times. I remember his parents got him a pool so he could do some of his physical therapy exercises. Even though he wasn’t able to communicate with us I remember him smiling and communicating through his eyes.”

Drew was a student at Newtown Elementary School where he was known as “the Mayor” because he knew everyone. He loved school and riding the bus. And the entire school community embraced Drew and made every day special for him.

“Hailey and Brooke really brought these two foundations completely into our Villa community and we welcomed them with open arms,” said Mary Ellen. “We brought these two organizations to the table and it was our idea to completely fundraise for them and show them that we really want to do something for them and that we care and we love them.”

Each student who registers for Hope A Thon is asked to raise a minimum of $75. That can come from family and friends donating on their behalf or they can collect pledges from neighbors, family and friends.

“In week four of fundraising, we had some girls already over $1,000,” said Gianna. “And that excitement gets us more excited. It makes you feel very proud, very loved and very grateful to attend school here.”

The community can also help support the girls and their charities by visiting VJMHS.org/Hope and following the instructions on how to donate. Checks can also be mailed to Villa Joseph Marie High School, attention: Hope A Thon, 1180 Holland Road Holland, Pa. 18966.

Though the event will take place in April, the team has been working hard to raise money through pre-event activities and by spreading awareness throughout the community.

They have been holding local restaurant nights at venues like Jules Pizza and Playa Bowls. And they sold more than 1600 Bundt cakes from Nothing Bundt Cakes in the Village of Newtown Shopping Center with 30 percent of the proceeds benefiting Hope A Thon.

“It has been really touching,” said Brooke. “We had one girl order more than 100 Bundt cakes. There are just a lot of gestures like that by the Villa community that has made us feel good about what we are doing.”

Mini-Thon has historically raised between $80,000 and $100,000, which bodes well for Hope A Thon, said Gianna. “We’re hoping for something around there.”

Making the day even more meaningful for the school and for the organizers, the fundraiser will be dedicated to Middleton. Although she is gone, she continues to inspire the leadership team and the entire Villa community to be servant leaders in Hope-A-Thon and beyond.

“This event is really important to a lot of us, especially our senior class,” said Mary Ellen. “When we started this event, the five of us - Gianna, Hailey, Brooke, Maria and myself - we were a team and we put a lot of compassion into this. Unfortunately Maria passed away in October. She was a very important and vital part of this event and getting it started. She was one of our overall chairs. We feel her presence and love every day and miss her a lot. We know, even though she may not be physically with us on April 16 she’s still with us every day.”

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