PENNSBURY >> The parking lot at Pennsbury High East rocked for five hours on Saturday as more than 150 students came together safely for the school’s seventh Mini-THON.

And when the music stopped playing, the kids had raised $28,506.98 for kids with pediatric cancer and the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital.

While the final total didn’t reach or surpass the $70,000 they raised in early 2020 before the pandemic struck, it was impressive nonetheless given the shutdowns and obstacles of the past year.

Overall co-chairs Kendall Swirles and Carissa Van Veen said it was never a question of if the event would take place, but how it would take place.

Early in the planning, they adopted a simple philosophy: “Cancer doesn’t stop for COVID. So we’re not going to stop either.”

Among their first decisions was to move the fundraiser from February to April to take advantage of the outdoors. They met and planned almost the entire event via FaceTime meetings, e-mail and telephone calls.

Until recently they weren’t sure whether the event would be virtual or in person. They were thrilled when they got the go ahead for an outdoor, in person event.

“We didn’t think we’d be able to have it person,” said Van Veen. “Last year we were lucky enough that it was right before the shutdown and we were able to have it. This year we were a little skeptical. We thought we might have to do it online. But to be able to have it in person is great. We are so happy.”

“It’s nice to be able to see everyone being brought together and be safe,” added Swirles. “It’s really nice, especially after all the virtual meetings.”

There were some tweaks, including moving the event outside, shortening the event to five hours and limiting the dancing to modified line dances at the top of each hour. The rest of the time was filled with outdoor games and sporting events that kept them moving to the music, but safely distanced.

Through all the adjustments and changes, the students never lost sight of the reason for the Mini-THON. In fact, the rallying cry, “For the Kids,” became even more important.

“‘For the Kids’ is obviously a big focus for us every year, but this year, especially, we tried to push that harder,” said Van Veen. “We’ve all been struggling with COVID, but people with cancer don’t stop having cancer just because the world is shut down. They are still struggling.”

“We fight for the kids always,” said Swirles. “The message is still there. The idea is still there. We still feel passionate about it. And you can really feel the energy when we dance.”

Throughout the Mini-THON the students were introduced to a child or student who had either survived or lost their battle with pediatric cancer. Via video, friends and family members spoke to the kids about their loved ones, the support they received from Four Diamonds and the impact it has had on their lives.

“Hearing other people come and share their experiences, it lifts our spirits and lets us know why we are doing this,” said Van Veen.

Faculty adviser and PHS math teacher Meaghan Cappelloni, who has assisted with the event for the past seven years and has seen the grand total blossom to well over $300,000, couldn’t say enough about this year’s organizers.

“They’ve been great. They haven’t been deterred at all. They’ve been trying to think up fundraisers to do, different events we could do that would be safe. They tried to think outside the box and tried to do anything they could to pull this off,” said Cappelloni. “I’m very proud of them for not getting discouraged even though it’s been a tricky time. Today makes all the hard work they put in really payoff,” she added.

Modeled after the Penn State Dance Marathon, “Four Diamonds Mini-THONs” originated in 1993 and empower students to learn about event management and philanthropy by joining in the fight against pediatric cancer.

The Four Diamonds mission is to conquer childhood cancer by assisting children being treated at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital and their families through superior care, comprehensive support, and innovative research.

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