A rite of passage for every Pennsbury High School student is participating in the annual MiniTHON.
Typically held in the gymnasium, the 8-hour event is a high-energy affair with blasting music, colorful neon outfits and intricately coordinated dance routines. It’s a true celebration, as students culminate months of fundraising initiatives for Four Diamonds – the organization that covers 100 percent of all medical expenses for cancer patients at Penn State Children’s Hospital in Hershey. There is also a cancer research lab.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Pennsbury community feared its beloved MiniTHON would either be canceled or held via the dreaded Zoom. However, students, faculty and staff pivoted last month to transition MiniTHON outdoors on the PHS East campus.
On Saturday, April 24, the teens were on their feet for six hours, enjoying games and sports, and viewing emotional video testimonials from families who were supported by Four Diamonds.
A total of $28,506.98 was raised this year by a committed group of 150 students, who were led by overall captains Carissa VanVeen and Kendall Swirles, both seniors. Faculty adviser Meaghan Cappelloni, a Penn State alum who was part of THON as an undergrad, oversaw their efforts.
“It was really exciting to be able to have it, especially having it in-person,” said VanVeen. “Whether we could have it at all was kind of up in the air, and then even when we got the go-ahead to have it outside, we always had that backup plan that, if COVID got worse, to have it virtually. So just to have it be done and to have it go so well, I’m really excited.”
Despite raising significantly less than last year’s $72,000, the final outcome for 2021 was impressive in light of the circumstances. Usually, Pennsbury middle and elementary schools fundraise during their own MiniTHONs earlier in the year. Since classes were primarily virtual until recent weeks, these were unable to take place. The hope is that the entire district can get involved again in 2022.
It’s possible that the next MiniTHON may also take place outdoors. According to Swirles, the spacious lawn offered more options than the gym. Students took part in large-scale games like capture the flag, name that tune and kickball, as well as small-group activities like volleyball and minute to win it.
“And every hour on the hour, we do this every year, we had our line dance to bring everyone together to sing and dance to a song,” said Swirles. “Personally, I enjoyed it outside a lot more.”
According to Swirles, the MiniTHON planning process was a bit unorthodox. All meetings between herself, VanVeen and the student committee members were held virtually.
“It was definitely more tricky to plan over the phone and through FaceTime, but it ultimately worked out. We had a lot of new ideas that we brought to the table,” Swirles said. “It just feels nice to be able to help people on a more personal level and oversee a lot of it.”
For VanVeen, who was an overall captain during her junior year, it was an honor to again help lead the charge for a cure.
“It was great to be able to take that role up again this year with Kendall,” she said. “We had a really great time working together to raise money for a cause that we both just care so much about.”
Four Diamonds was created in 1972 and has since helped more than 4,000 children and families. Pennsbury is still accepting donations for its MiniTHON at PHSminiTHON.com.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org