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MC Students’ Dance Marathon Activities Demonstrate Philanthropic Effort is ‘Greater Than Us’

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Each academic year, men’s service clubs, women’s social tribes, and several other community-minded students at Mississippi College band together to host a variety of fundraising activities to support Dance Marathon, a philanthropic initiative of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, including Children’s of Mississippi in Jackson.

The on-campus events run the gamut from traditional bake sales, Instagram challenges, and popup thrift stores to bead-making parties, letter-writing campaigns, and “Pie the Professor” competitions. Proceeds help Children’s of Mississippi create a comfortable environment for pediatric patients and their families at the state’s only children’s hospital.

The students’ efforts will culminate in a night of dancing, refreshments, and fundraising for the hospital during MC Dance Marathon, scheduled from 6 p.m.-midnight on Thursday, April 13, in Anderson Hall in the B.C. Rogers Student Center. Participants will dance to a variety of musical genres, including pop-rock, hip-hop, country, and swing, for six consecutive hours to honor the way hospitalized children fight for their health every day.

Sponsored by the Office of Student Engagement, the fun-filled event of continuous dancing will include a reveal of the total collected this year for Children’s of Mississippi, the umbrella organization at the University of Mississippi Medical Center that houses the children’s hospital and pediatric clinics statewide.

MC Dance Marathon may be the most wide-ranging philanthropic effort ever launched at the Christian University. Students are “all in,” and the results through the years have reflected their enthusiasm.

The Dance Marathon campaign began at MC in 2016 when students raised approximately $12,000 for Children’s of Mississippi. At the time, the pediatric hospital had broken ground on an expansion project that would eventually triple the size of the facility and include an inpatient and outpatient clinic, a surgical floor, inpatient care rooms, imaging centers, and two Neonatal Intensive Care Unit floors.

MC Dance Marathon substantially increased its support of the effort each year, going from $23,312 in 2017 to $71,144 in 2019 and, after a pandemic hiatus, to a record But Dance Marathon student leaders aren’t necessarily looking to surpass their previous high mark this time – although there are strong indications they may accomplish the feat again. Instead, Noah Stanley, Dance Marathon co-chair, said sustainability is the focus.

“The implied goal is that we want to do even better than last year,” said Stanley, a senior interpersonal and public communication major from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. “At some point, almost doubling the donation each year won’t be possible. We want to focus on the cause and raise as much as we can in a healthy way.

“MC Dance Marathon is a community. We want people to feel like they have been part of our fundraising journey all year and have fun on Event Night.”

To reflect that commitment, Stanley, his co-executive director, Katherine Garris, and other members of the MC Dance Marathon Committee have developed a slogan for this year’s campaign: “Greater Than Us.”

“Our message is centered around a cause that is greater than us,” he said. “We are on a Christian campus, and although not everyone who donates is Christian, our goal is to serve the Lord in all we do. We want to give those who haven’t been part of Dance Marathon before the opportunity to join something that’s greater than them.

“The impact of that will last much longer than the four years they spend on MC’s campus.”

Marlee Rogers, director of small events for MC’s Dance Marathon, said two fund-raising events – Beads of Courage, in which participants string together beads to make bracelets or backpack tags, and Letters to Kids, in which individuals write personal notes of encouragement to Children’s of Mississippi patients – show what Dance Marathon is all about.

“Dance Marathon is not an event that just has an impact on the students at Mississippi College, but the greater reason for doing it is to help different families all over Mississippi,” Rogers said. “Each bead (used in Beads of Courage) has a different meaning. They are a reminder of what we are fundraising for. Each bead correlates to our overall mission of the year, which is ‘Greater Than Us.’

“Letters to Kids involves the campus personally with those we are raising funds to support. People write a fun letter to encourage and let them know they are loved. These letters will be at the Big Event to show our support for these kids as they go through a challenging time in their lives.”

Jordan Little, director of public relations for MC Dance Marathon, leads a committee that creates social media buzz and promotes the event. She said Mississippi College students welcome the opportunity to be part of something larger than themselves.

“We get the opportunity to be involved in something that is not for us, and that’s why we do it,” Little said. “The Dance Marathon mission statement is to invest in the lives of children by uniting together to serve a cause greater than us.

“Students support Dance Marathon because we believe it is a cause greater than ourselves.”

That support is encouraged by MC faculty and administrators. Dr. Jonathan Ambrose, associate vice president for the student experience and dean of students at MC, helped design the Freshman Leadership Initiative Program, a servant leadership class for incoming scholars, to develop their skills and contribute to events like MC Dance Marathon throughout their collegiate careers.

Stanley said members of the FLIP class provide valuable fund-raising assistance, and many develop into servant leaders for MC Dance Marathon. He said about 30 students in the class got to tour Children’s of Mississippi and see the fruits of their philanthropic efforts, including additional LED lighting in patient rooms, new towel warmers that provide comfort to children, and attractive wraps that make CT scanners and other hospital equipment seem less ominous to patients.

“These things make kids feel seen, loved, and welcomed at the hospital when they have to be away from home,” he said.

Stanley said students find myriad ways to support Dance Marathon, like manufacturing and selling unique items, such as personalized rubber duckies or hand-knitted dinosaurs. Mississippi College President Blake Thompson got into the act, supporting a drawing for custom-painted Nike Air Force One shoes that match the unique pair he enjoys wearing.

“You can be as creative as you want with your support,” Stanley said. “There are many ways to get involved – you don’t even have to dance to partner with us.”

Like any successful enterprise, the student-run organization depends on a number of leaders to coordinate and facilitate the various activities. Six committee directors are responsible for ensuring the most essential parts of the Dance Marathon perform smoothly.

The Event Day Committee, directed by Anna Davis, decorates Anderson Hall, raises funds for refreshments, and plans each hourly program during the Big Event. The Family Relations Committee, directed by Brook Ingram, coordinates Club, Tribe, and independent student interaction with “Miracle Kids” from Children’s of Mississippi, who are special guests at the Big Event. The Community Engagement Committee, directed by Mallie Wilbanks, informs local churches, businesses, schools, and the Clinton community how to participate in the effort. Each of these committees reports to Stanley.

Little directs the Public Relations Committee that promotes all MC Dance Marathon activities. Rogers directs the Small Events Committee that oversees more than a half-dozen fund-raising events throughout the year. The Fundraising Committee, led by Isabelle McConnell, partners with local businesses for more extensive development opportunities and manages donations to MC Dance Marathon. Each of these committees reports to Garris.

Stanley said he enjoys working with the creative team of MC students to transform an effort with no operating budget into one of the most successful benevolent activities on campus.

“I love connecting with people and motivating them to support a central cause,” he said. “MC Dance Marathon is worthy of their effort.”

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