Madie Conley and Haley Morris, both seniors in elementary education, are directors of recruitment and dancer relations for this year’s Iowa State Dance Marathon. Contributed photos.

Human sciences students call work with Dance Marathon “life-changing”

College of Human Sciences students are taking their passion for helping people to make a difference in the lives of children with life-threatening illnesses.

Cat Rudolph (left) at one of the Dance Marathon’s events for families last summer.

Iowa State Dance Marathon, the largest student philanthropy organization on campus that raises funds and awareness for the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital, will hold two 12-hour celebrations of life supporting more than 80 families across Iowa this Friday and Saturday, Jan. 20 and 21, in the Great Hall of Memorial Union.

Many of the 130 committee members for this year’s event are students in the College of Human Sciences. They include six of the 16 members of the Dance Marathon’s executive team, and 20 of the event’s 40 “morale captains.”

“To see the impact that you’re making on these kids, by just having a hand in the planning and hard work that goes into this event is incredible and life-changing,” said Haley Morris, a senior in elementary education who’s one of the event’s recruitment and dancer relation directors.

“The organization is a huge passion of mine,” said Cat Rudolph, a senior in diet and exercise who is one of the event’s two family relations directors. “Dance Marathon has definitely been my most rewarding college experience. I truly feel like I am a part of something bigger than myself and that I am making a difference. The cause and its influence is life-changing.”

Supporting families, changing lives

Students from all five academic areas of the College of Human Sciences — education; kinesiology; human development and family studies; food science and human nutrition; and apparel, events, and hospitality management — are leaders of this year’s Dance Marathon.

“This is my fourth and final year being involved as a student,” said Abbey Vitosh, a senior in elementary education who is the event’s development director. “The kiddos and their families, getting to know them and their stories has been the highlight of my college career.”

Madie Conley, a senior in elementary education who’s one of two recruitment and dancer relation directors, has a personal reason for being involved. She was working in a 5th-grade classroom as a teacher’s assistant when one of the students in the class died unexpectedly from a car accident.

“I have experienced a great deal of the heartache and the extremely long healing process that comes with the loss of a young person,” Conley said. “I say that my involvement with Dance Marathon attempts to prevent other families from going through that pain because we are raising money to support these amazing kiddos. Every cent goes straight towards the best equipment, treatments, hospital, and doctors to make these kids better. We’re giving these kiddos a second chance at just being a normal, healthy child.”

As family relations director, Rudolph works directly with families with at least one child experiencing life-threatening childhood illness ranging from cancer to kidney disease and neurological damage.

“My position works to give the greatest amount of support and positivity for these kiddos as well as foster meaningful relationships between families and other dancers/committee members,” she said.

Celebrating 20 years

Abbey Vitosh, development director of the Dance Marathon

The Iowa State Dance Marathon celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Since its beginning, the event has raised a

total of $3.5 million for the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital, including more than $362,000 last year.

Money raised over the years has been allocated toward new and current projects including library materials, patient support “comfort kits,” parking and food vouchers for family members during extended stays, music therapy equipment, and infant CPR training kits.

Executive directors Emily Cowles and Grant Denny said the Iowa State Dance Marathon is “on the right track” to finish out a pledge of $2 million that will go specifically toward the new University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, opening this year. This year’s fundraising total will be revealed at 11 p.m. Saturday at the end of the Dance Marathon.

As this year’s development director, Vitosh said fundraising has gone well.

“We had a push day back in November. Our goal was to raise $20,000 in one day for it being our 20th year on campus as a student organization,” she said. “We ended up raising $24,319.56, which is a huge step for Iowa State Dance Marathon.”

Dance Marathon weekend will be held 7 p.m. Friday to 7 a.m. Saturday, and from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday. More than 1,000 people are expected to attend — including about 400 dancers at each event, 130 committee members, 16 executive team members, and about 200 family members and their children.

However, Dance Marathon goes beyond one weekend. Students also organize events throughout the year to support the children and families including Miracle Week, Extra Life, Miracle Cup, and FTKarnival.

Gaining skills for the future

Emily Cowles and Grant Denny, executive co-directors of this year’s Iowa State Dance Marathon

The passion that College of Human Sciences students bring to Dance Marathon, and the hands-on experiences they gain, translates into skills they will likely use in their

professional careers.

“My experiences communicating with various types of people throughout Dance Marathon, leadership practices, detail-oriented organization, event planning, and effectively utilizing teamwork will be just some of the skills I will carry over from Dance Marathon into my future,” said Rudolph, whose goal is to become a registered dietitian, and possibly a professor someday.

Morris said being a leader with Dance Marathon not only helps her to prepare on a professional level to become a teacher, but also prepares her for difficult situations she’ll face in the classroom.

It’s taught us how important it is to be a support system for a child who is dealing with things way beyond their years,” she said.

Vitosh said Dance Marathon has allowed her to interact with families, and provided her with a growing passion for kids. And Conley said as a leader of the Dance Marathon, she’s collaborated with a variety of people, practiced her professional communication, worked to meet strict deadlines, set goals, and reflected on how to improve events and strategies.

“I think the biggest thing I gained from this experience is learning how to motivate and inspire others,” Conley said. “I believe all these skills will help me become a better educator, especially in learning how to engage my future students and help them believe in themselves.”