The first annual Kean Dance Marathon (KDM) Winter Wonderland Gala was hosted by the Greek Senate, Thursday, Nov. 29. The event transpired in the STEM building’s Donald R. Conklin Conference Center from 7 to 10:30 p.m., which was adorned with decorations from top to bottom. Guests arrived in their formal attire to enjoy a night of socialization and fun, but most importantly to raise awareness for the important cause that benefits the Children’s Specialized Hospital.
Each year in the spring, Kean University holds the Kean Dance Marathon, a 12-hour long event that is intended to raise money and awareness for the Children’s Specialized Hospital. The event includes activities, dancing, presentations, performances, and some of the children from the hospital even come to celebrate with the students. Last year, the university raised over $50,000 for the Children’s Specialized Hospital, the highest amount in KDM history thus far. This year, the university aimed to raise even more money for this special cause, and the Winter Wonderland Gala was one of the ways the university was intending to do so.
The event began with DJ Nix in the Mix playing a variety of upbeat music to encourage the guests to socialize and mingle. There were many photo opportunities, a raffle to participate in and a table for "Be The Match" where participants could sign up to become bone marrow transplant donors.
The first speakers of the night were Scott Snowden, the director for the Center for Leadership and Service (CLS), and Alex Louis, the assistant director for Greek Affairs. They thanked everyone for coming together on this special night, especially since this is the first year that the Winter Wonderland Gala was being held. Additionally, they awarded Janice Murray-Laury, the vice president of Student Affairs, as the Winter Wonderland Gala Honoree and thanked her for her unwavering support for the Children's Specialized Hospital and KDM. She has demonstrated her dedication at Kean and is a mentor not only to students but to other faculty and staff members.
When accepting her award, Murray-Laury stated, “Kean University, to its core, believes in its students. We believe in our community and we recognize our global mission. We’re getting it done. We never do it alone. We do it with the talent from the faculty and staff. We do it from the extraordinary division of Student Affairs, and we don't get anything done without the excellence of our students.”
She continued, “The excellence of our students comes from not only the best and the brightest who come in ready to start and serve, but it comes from those students being willing to give, and those of you who are here; you take the time to give every day. You don’t get to this point, you don't get this organized without having the talent and ability to share.”
Her speech left students feeling proud of their efforts of supporting the Children’s Specialized Hospital.
When asked how it feels to be at an event supporting the Children's Specialized Hospital, student and brother of Nu Delta Pi Chris White said, “It’s very satisfying because I know what all of my money and time is going into. To know that these kids have a chance to fight for their lives because of us is something great to think about.”
Following the speeches was the dinner, which allowed the guests to continue to mingle and socialize while enjoying the tasty food. Afterward, Jair Thompson gave a speech concerning Be The Match, which is a worldwide organization that finds bone marrow donors for people in need and finds research methods to improve transplant outcomes. The Kean University Love Your Melon Campus Crew (LYM) teams up with Be The Match often because LYM is focused on assisting children with pediatric cancer, and these issues go hand in hand.
Thompson explained that the odds of people finding someone to match with for bone marrow transplants are very low because one's best match is their sibling; however, some people do not match with their siblings or do not have siblings. In that case, it needs to be someone from the same racial and ethnic background, which further advances the difficulties of finding a match. These issues share similarities to those at the Children’s Specialized Hospital and KDM because many of the children are seeking bone marrow transplants and many suffer from pediatric cancer.
One of the myths of bone marrow transplants is that it is a very painful process.
Thompson said, “A lot of the myths that you hear are not true. Until you come and speak to us and know exactly how it works, you will feel a lot more comfortable.”
Many members of LYM could be seen at the gala to support the Children’s Specialized Hospital, as they were one of the hosts of the event.
President Tori Volpe said, “It actually feels really good [to show our support] because our company is actually based for kids, so pediatric cancer goes hand in hand with the Children’s Specialized Hospital. It feels really good to give back that way and to have an event that helps benefit KDM.”
Member of LYM Marius Price said, “We are proud to work with Greek Senate on this endeavor. We’re glad that so many people showed up, and we’re happy to see them smiling, happy and looking so spiffy.”
When asked what advice he would give to one of the children in the hospital, he said, “Keep fighting. You’ve got supporters all around you. You’ve got supporters you don’t even know working at a college however far away. Hopefully we can help make a difference because we’re doing this for them.”
The evening concluded with a recognition to Kayla Pagnani, the Children’s Specialized Hospital’s program manager who works closely with Kean for KDM. Additionally, Bryce was recognized, who was Kean University’s first miracle child when they started KDM. It was uplifting for everyone to see him, his progress and how he has grown since Kean took him under its wing.
Overall, the Gala was an event for students, staff, alumni and members of the community alike to gather together to raise awareness for The Children’s Specialized Hospital and to do all of this for the kids.
The next Kean Dance Marathon will transpire April 12, 2019 from noon to midnight in Downs Hall. It will include dancing, performances, games and a chance to raise awareness for the kids. Anyone wishing to donate to the Children's Specialized Hospital through KDM can do so by visiting: https://events.dancemarathon.com/event/KDM2019.