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Penn State THON - Bethlehem native helps face, overcome COVID challenges

Every year, the Penn State THON raises funds for the Four Diamonds Fund and fosters awareness about families affected by pediatric cancer. With the COVID-19 pandemic, many of THON’s usual events have had to be altered, but THON and the associated Mini-THON at Bethlehem Area School District are still going on.

“It (COVID) has given us a chance to do things a little bit differently this year,” says Megan Dalo, THON’s media relations captain. “For THON, we are doing a totally virtual event. It’s going to be livestreamed and that link can be found on the THON.org website (https://www.Thon.org/virtual-thon-weekend ) Feb. 19 to 21.”

In lieu of a 48-hour dance marathon on the Penn State University Park Campus, dancers will be dancing from their homes.

“We’re really giving them all the information on how to do this safely, and following CDC guidelines,” Dalo says.

Some of the THON will be online, and some will not.

“There will be some hybrid events, videos playing on the livestream, also three or four live popular acts,” Dalo says. Additionally, more events, including the Pep Rally and Family Hour, traditionally done on campus, will be happening virtually.

“It’s exciting, we’re looking forward to it” Dalo adds.

Brian Seitz, special events director for THON, is a Bethlehem native. His work with THON began with his family’s involvement in the BASD Min-THON.

“My older sister Eileen actually started the Bethlehem Area School District Mini-THON in 2013,” he explains. “I was in eighth grade at the time, and I saw her fulfill this role and be super successful in it, and it inspired me to want to take on a similar leadership role when I got into high school. I looked up to her as a role model and wanted to follow in her shoes, and make an impact like she did.”

Brian shares his first experience at a Penn State THON.

“The first time I was ever exposed to the large scale THON event at Penn State, was in 2011. I was 12, and my sister was one of the dancers, completing the 48-hour dancing, no sleeping event. I remember walking to the floor and knowing that one day, if I go to Penn State, I want to have a huge role in making this happen. One of my sisters served on the executive committee in 2017, so being exposed to that when I was in high school blew me away, and again made me want to follow in her footsteps.”

When he started high school at Freedom, Brian says he got “super involved” in the Mini-THON. He had two captain roles where he oversaw two committees and the main event, the 12-hour dance. When he saw himself going to Penn State, he decided to become involved with the larger organization and has been involved with THON throughout his undergraduate years. This is Brian’s final year and his first year on THON’s Executive Committee.

Brian is majoring in rehabilitation and human services, and minoring in psychology and deafness and hearing studies. Over winter break, he submitted applications to five occupational therapy master’s degree programs.

Brain explained how THON’s events have changed during COVID.

“Obviously because of the pandemic, things look very different, especially for my committee, because we focus on in-person engagement, revolving around getting people excited and into State College for our events,” he says. “We’re focusing on expanding our reach and engagement to people around the world, and really focusing on creating virtual events and other initiatives that are engaging for people not only in State College but also around the country, because THON has supporters all around the entire country.”

Brian is also focused on the Virtual 5 K initiative.

“While this was not the first year we had a virtual 5K, this was the first year it was built out to the extent that it was. We provided a training plan, a step tracking app, and the initiative itself raised over $100,000.

“We also challenged the community to do an around the world challenge. That’s one example of how we are rewriting what we do this year, kind of with a clean slate.”

“Although it’s been a challenge,” Brian continues, “THON has really taken the initiative to see this more as an opportunity, to work on initiatives that have been long overdue, and some that have never been thought of before. Even when we start to go back to normal, we are excited to see these initiatives continue, when this role is taken over by my successor.” He said the new executive committee is selected in early April, then he’ll go through a transition process with his successor to make sure that person has all the materials needed to be successful in this role.

Brian says he maintains contact with the local mini-THON project through social media.

“I can see they are also dealing with challenges. So being able to see that from the sidelines, and how they are able to still do virtual events and engage students through a smaller version of Mini-THON, it’s really cool to see. It’s kind of a tradition at Freedom and Liberty to do this. I’m very proud of them for making it happen despite the very different circumstances this year.”

BASD’s Mini Thon

BASD Mini-THON is a project of Freedom and Liberty high school students who come together every year to raise money for the Four Diamonds Fund. Students sponsor several fundraisers throughout the school year, including dine and donates, a social distanced golf outing, video Christmas cards from Santa, bingos, sunshine bags to bags for current pediatric cancer patients, and card campaigns. Since money has been tight for people around the community, students are explaining the scope of mini-THON through multiple community service events include an upcoming Park and Trail clean up. This allows everyone to get out and enjoy some time with their friends and family in a safe way.

At the end of the school year, usually in April, a large scale event called ‘the main event” is held with about 1,000 Freedom and Liberty students participating. Everyone who attends stands for 12 hours straight to raise money for pediatric cancer. At the end of the event, the total amount of money raised that year is revealed.

This year has looked a little different. It has been challenging to come up with COVID-friendly fundraisers but stuents are still doing everything they can to raise money. A main event this year is planned within the next few months, whether it is in-person or virtual. You can follow the mini-THON’s progress on Instagram @basd_minithon and Twitter @basdminithon for more information and updates regarding our upcoming fundraisers including a mini-thon mask sale.

Area residents are invited to join a Feb. 18 fundraiser at MOD pizza at 1878 Airport Road.

PRESS PHOTOS COUTRTESY SEITZ FAMILY THON Activities Director Brian Seitz behind the letters FTK- “For the kids” in front of Old Main on the University Park Campus. All THON activities benefit pediatric cancer patients and their families through the Four Diamonds Fund.
Seitz family members at the 2011 THON: (back) Pam Seitz, Eileen Seitz, Jack Seitz, (front) Brian Seitz, Colleen McPeak and Maureen Seitz. Brian's work with THON began with his family's involvement in the BASD Min-THON. His older sister, Eileen, started the Bethlehem Area School District Mini-THON in 2013.
THON Activities Director Brian Seitz and 10 of his captains at the THON 5K. Back row: Grace Casey, Alyssa Placha, Alyssa Bielinski, Katherine Proto, Sydney Hakel and Kelsey Wolf. Front row: Koby Duke, Alyssa Carlier, Sarah Stitzel, Brian Seitz and Shelby Speaker