Sep 11, 201208:40 AMDaily News
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Coping with Cancer: Role models at Penn State
Editor’s note: This is the second in a five-part series examining the Beltz family of Carlisle, who is celebrating the fourth year of remission for their young son Xander. To learn more about the family, check out yesterday’s article.
It was a question more common on the minds of 15-year-old boys than Xander, yet it was on this 5-year-old’s mind anyway.
“When can the college girls sleep over again?”
The college girls are members of Delta Zeta, a sorority at the Pennsylvania State University. DZ is partnered with fraternity Delta Tau Delta in sponsoring Xander and his family for the university’s annual IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon.
THON raises money for The Four Diamonds Fund, a charity focused on beating pediatric cancer and caring for patients and their families at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital.
And while Dave and Dava Beltz were Penn State fans prior to their son Xander’s diagnosis, they’re now Nittany Lion fans for more than just football glory. “Through thick and thin, we’re die-hard Penn State fans now,” Dave said.
The family learned about THON through the hospital in the winter of 2008 and went to their first THON Feb. 2009. The Beltzes didn’t know anything about it, but they went and were blown away.
THON is a two-day dance marathon at Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center in which more than 700 students dance and stand without sitting or laying down to raise money for The Four Diamonds Funds. Athletes, coaches and famous campus personalities give speeches or perform skits and dances to entertain the dancers and families.
“It’s a party,” Dava said. “It’s fun for the families, fun for the kids, fun for the dancers. It’s exhausting for them as well, but what they do, you can’t put it into words. You can’t say thank you enough for what they do for the families.”
The Beltzes and other families “adopted” by organizations are allowed on the floor to join the dancers and play with them and keep them awake. They also have the opportunity to meet various people, including the late Joe Paterno—Jacaylah has a picture at his desk—and football coach Bill O’Brien. Xander met O’Brien privately by chance at THON 2012 and got a picture with the coach less than two months after he was hired.
On the importance of THON, Dava was blunt: “(Xander’s) here because they dance.”
When they signed up, the Beltzes were matched up with the sorority and fraternity. They’re now together for life, and the family hosts the groups each year to get to know the new members and say goodbye to the graduating ones.
The family has defended the university and students raising money for THON, who have been unfairly criticized at times. Dave remembers a coworker who saw canners—students standing on street corners with coffee cans raising money for THON—and complained about the “damn college students raising beer money again.” Dave had just learned about THON and where that money was going and how it was directly helping him and his family, and he took it very personally. Dave “set the gentleman straight” and told him exactly what the money was for and what those kids were doing.
The next day, Dave said, the man dropped some money in a can.
The most recent THON raised a record $10,686,924.83. It was a welcome change for alumni and fans who have seen their once-proud university rocked to its foundation. The Beltz family stands up for the school and organization knowing not only what they’ve done for the their family but also just because of the college kids. “We’ve built so many relationships with these kids,” Dava said. “They care, and it’s legitimate. That’s inspiring, because you don’t see a lot of that anymore. They care just because they do, not because there’s any incentive, there’s nothing in it for them. They just want to help.”
“That’s the part of Penn State nobody’s seeing right now,” Dave said.
THON has inspired mini-THONs all over the midstate, from high schools like Cumberland Valley —which raised more than $100,000 last year—to middle schools such as Jacaylah’s, Yellow Breeches Middle School. The school in the South Middleton School District raised more than $12,000 last year in its inaugural mini-THON.
With first-hand knowledge of how that money helps people, Jacaylah, of course, helped out. She was part of the planning committee and raised a few hundred dollars as a dancer.
Dave said mini-THONs help raise awareness for the main one and also the cause it’s fighting for.
At Penn State’s THON—which can be a big pep rally for the families as much as the child with cancer—Jacaylah is included as much as her brother. She went in 2009 with her parents although Xander couldn’t because of his treatments. She missed this past one due to pneumonia—so it’s fair now, the parents said—but is looking forward to going back.
“(THON’s) really, really fun,” Jacaylah said. “Two of the years I went I got to feel like a dancer because we were up most of the time. I got to dance with the cheerleaders in the pep rally in 2011.”
THON will always be part of the Beltz family’s life, and they’ll always be supportive and inspired by the college students who sacrifice their time and energy just to help—even with the world against them.
“These college kids are the best role models for my kids because of what they do,” Dava said. “I’m trying to raise my kids in philanthropy, and you always want to do for others because it always comes back ten-fold. This is what the school should be known for, and it’s sad that they’re not.”
Kurt Bopp is assistant editor/web at Central Penn Parent. Check back tomorrow to learn about how random acts by strangers restored the Beltzes faith in humanity.