Hazleton duo eager to join first-ever virtual THON Weekend

HAZLETON, Pa. — Living rooms and dorm rooms will double as dance floors for two Penn State Hazleton students as they team up with hundreds of other Penn Staters to take on childhood cancer in the first-ever virtual THON Weekend from Feb. 19-21.

Camille Principe and Caitlyn Williams will represent Hazleton in this year’s 46-hour dance marathon, which will shift from the floor of the Bryce Jordan Center at the University Park campus to a virtual format due to the ongoing pandemic.

Students on Zoom call using hands to make diamond symbol

Penn State Hazleton students Camille Principe (top) and Caitlyn Williams will represent the campus in the first-ever virtual THON Weekend on Feb. 19-21, 2021.

Credit: Penn State

Though not in its traditional form, Principe and Williams said they are eager experience virtual variations of the activities THON is known for, including line dances, the Kids Talent Show, alumni association pep rally, celebrity performances and more.

But more so, they said, they’re thankful for the opportunity to support children and families battling childhood cancer.

“COVID-19 isn’t something anyone saw coming, yet THON organizers found a way to make sure we still had an event this year which is such a blessing for all the Four Diamonds Families,” Williams said.

The largest student-run philanthropy in the world, THON has raised more than $180 million through its network of student volunteers and partners since its inception in 1976. Ninety-six percent of all funds raised go directly to Four Diamonds at Penn State Children’s Hospital. Four Diamonds picks up where insurance leaves off, enabling families to solely focus on care for their child. Assistance from Four Diamonds helps to make sure counselors, social workers, music therapists and other specialists are available to provide comprehensive care in a family-focused atmosphere. 

According to THON chair Payton Fogarty, a sophomore accounting major from Kinnelon, NJ, virtual events have been the main sources of fundraising this year and have ranged from bingo to a 5K to a virtual dance contest coordinated by business students for a class project. 

Fogarty stressed the importance of THON and the assistance it brings to families of a child battling cancer. 

"Our THON family has told us during Zoom meetings how the support has helped to alleviate some worries during one of the most difficult times in their lives," she said. 

Both Williams and Principe are active in the student organization Penn State Hazleton Benefiting THON. Each also brings their own unique experience to the event. 

For Principe, a senior from Jim Thorpe majoring in letters, arts and sciences, THON is somewhat of a family tradition. Siblings Michael, Stephen and Meghann attended Penn State Hazleton and participated in THON, including last year when Camille and Meghann represented the campus together.

“Most people might only dance once just because it takes so much out of you but I’m very honored to have another opportunity and my brothers and sisters are excited for me to have the same experience they did,” Principe said. 

Williams, meanwhile, will participate in THON for the first time. A sophomore from Kingsley majoring in rehabilitation and human services, she took in most of last year’s dance marathon from the stands with other members of the Hazleton THON chapter.

Williams, who currently lives on campus, said her roommate has volunteered to help keep her hydrated. Principe plans to participate from home, no doubt with support from her family. The pair said they plan to stretch frequently to stay loose.

Both will have some time to recover. Instead of being on their feet for 46 hours straight, Principe and Williams will get to rest up during designated break hours between midnight and 6 a.m.

Fogarty encourages people to support Camille and Caitlyn in their effort to help families battling cancer by donating online at https://do.nr/f5xt2

Spectators can also get in on the action with games and activities that can be performed at home any time.

A livestream of the event can be viewed at thon.org/livestream