Kean University celebrated in another installment of their coveted Kean Dance Marathon (KDM) Friday, April 20, 2018. This 12-hour dance festival, complete with games, prizes, performances, informational booths and a multitude of music was the hottest attraction on the Kean campus from noon to midnight.
As the spotlight was put on Downs Hall for yet another KDM, the goal was no different: beat last year's record of $40,000 in fundraising for a very special cause, the Children's Specialized Hospital (CSH) in Mountainside, New Jersey. For 12 hours straight, students, faculty and friends of the Kean family danced to old and new tunes and tracks, competed in enticing and vigorous games, and had multiple dance-offs, all while raising money for a good cause.
The day officially kicked off with the Children's Specialized Hospital's Program Manager, Kayla Pagnani, welcoming everyone to the festivities. In giving an emotional speech to start the day, Pagnani reaffirmed why each person's presence was important in that venue that Friday.
"For those of you who don’t know, Children’s Specialized Hospital’s closest site is actually 10 minutes down the road. So you guys are helping kids right in our backyard. These kids, they go through a lot. One of the main reasons why one of our patients will be treated at Children’s Specialized Hospital is because they suffer from a traumatic brain injury, a traumatic spinal injury, autism, premature birth, and a lot of life-changing and life-threatening illnesses,” Pagnani said.
Pagnani continued, “So for the next 12 hours, we’re going to be standing on our feet for them. We’re going to be raising money for them. Just keep that in mind. I hope that drives you through the next 12 hours. I know I will be standing on my feet.”
And stand on their feet they did. The hospital bracelets that some attendees had placed on their wrist symbolized, in Pagnani's words, all of the kids who would not be able to take the hospital bracelet off that day.
"For those of you who will be standing for the full 12 hours, you’ll be able to cut it off. But there are some kids who won’t, so when you put this on think about that. Keep it close to your heart. Think about why you guys are here and just know that who you are supporting, it really does mean so much to them,” Pagnani commented.
The first patient of the day greeted the onlooking dancers on the Downs Hall floor. Four-year-old Izzy, a patient of the CSH, gave a sentimental speech. Her mother, Sonia, explained her story and involvement with the hospital when Izzy was an infant. Soon after her birth, she noticed that her daughter was having trouble moving her neck and as a CT examination was done, it was determined that a spinal tumor was found.
“My husband and I had the idea that she would just recover from this and everything would be okay. We didn’t know what recovery was going to look like. We didn’t know that our healthy baby, who was scooting around on her bottom was just smiling everyday at everything, would then after that day could not even sit up. Shortly thereafter, we realized that she was going to need some physical rehab and had no idea that a child could possibly need physical rehabilitation," Sonia said.
Doctors gave her a biopsy to get rid of the tumor, but although she did not enjoy her treatments at first, soon she began to look forward to her treatments due to the kindness and dedication her doctors showed.
Vibrant and standing upright, Izzy commanded the stage to be her own, as her mother explained that she could walk and sit up straight, all because of the Children's Specialized Hospital.
Other tables, like the Love Your Melon table just next to the RSS table, specialized in giving 50 percent of its profit to support the fight against pediatric cancer. The representative at the table, senior business marketing major Nicole Logatto, a sister of the Theta Phi Alpha sorority, helped to pass out bracelets and other goodies to visitors.
"I think that everyone is touched by someone who is going through something, especially like cancer. I feel like when people say that it is for the kids, people push a little more to do the best they can. [Love Your Melon] just loves to spread the awareness in trying to help someone with cancer," Logatto said.
After the fourth hour passed, another special speech was given to the growing crowd at KDM during the fifth hour. Gabriella Bonilla, junior psychology and therapeutic recreation with an occupational therapy tract and a sister of Theta Phi Alpha, had an emotional story to tell. On the date of October 16, 2009, Bonilla was involved in a serious automobile accident. Luckily, with the help of the Children's Specialized Hospital, she was healed back to full health.
Being on stage was nerve-wracking to the junior, but worth it after her process. "[KDM] means the world to me, in general because I have been on both sides. Now that I am raising money, I wanted to tell other people to know that all of their efforts are going somewhere. It means the world to me to know how much time and effort people put into this," Bonilla said. "What I could do for another child for what the CSH did for me would be a dream come true!"
To reward the giving efforts of the attendees, there were ticket raffles during the show's intermissions. The prizes given away in the show were mainly gift baskets, with each one having a different theme, such as a Ralph Lauren basket, athletic basket and beach basket.
During the show's halfway point, the performances started to pick up. First, a performance by the Inspiration Dance Crew in the middle of the floor garnered cheer and praise from the KDM attendees as they did a hip hop group dance to popular hip hop songs. Soon after, it was time for the Greeks to strut their stuff. A stroll-off by three different organizations — Iota Phi Theta, Alpha Phi Alpha and Omega Phi Chi--became an exciting competition that would ultimately see fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha win.
Right after, hour seven was announced! Zumba instructors were then announced on the stage. In the hour of fitness, these instructors led the charge in showing the dancers on the floor some new dance exercises for them to have fun while getting a good workout. Kean Musical Movements then took the floor soon after, commanding the audience's attention with an electric hip hop dance.
In hour eight, Alex Louis, the assistant director for the Center of Leadership and Service, gave the microphone to two young Westfield High School students, both of which started their own Dance Marathon at their school to raise money for their own charitable causes as the audience clapped. Next up on the stage was a Taylor Swift cover of the popular song "Shake it Off" by two Kean students, except this time they communicated their lyrics in sign language! After they finished, rapper Keith Bell, or "K. Bellz" rapped an original song for the crowd which received a thunderous applause.
Hour nine started with a massive Greek unity stroll, hula hoop race and Jersey Club battle all in front of the stage. It also included some cultural performances. An Irish tap dance to Irish folk music and a huge Portuguese ritual dance, complete with drummers and other instruments made viewers feel as if they were traveling the world.
The story of Kenny and his mother was soon told next. It explained how the Children's Specialized Hospital helped the mother-son duo get the care Kenny deserved, as it was an emotional moment. Those around Kenny and his mother cheered. Kenny also told some funny jokes as well, getting the crowd to laugh.
To finish off the day, a final dance on the dance floor occurred, featuring the sounds of Jersey Club hits, hip-hop and other songs.
Once the time was up on the day, and KDM came to a close, there was just one more thing left to do: reveal the final fundraising total for 2018. For this year, the dance marathon topped last year's total of $47,485.98, and garnered a total of $53,875!
"Lately, we have been having different patients from the hospital that have come in. To hear their stories that touch our hearts, it gives us a reason as to why we are doing what we are doing," Louis said. "It is the patients that we do it for. It is not an easy project and it is very stressful, but we are doing it for the kids that cannot do it for themselves. That is why we keep pushing ourselves to raise as much money as possible."