60 Thoughts Regarding Canning
Part 1 — Overarching Ideas/Introduction
1) As someone who was involved with THON during my time at Penn State I’ve spent the last year carefully following the debate over canning. Although I personally enjoyed these trips I did my best to keep an open mind as I read THON’s press releases on the topic, articles by The Daily Collegian and Onward State, and hundreds of online comments both in favor of and against canning. Ultimately I came to the conclusion that, for reasons explained in this document, canning should be modified but not eliminated. I would like to stress the fact that although I may have a different point of view, I respect the opinions of the University, the Executive Committee, and other individuals currently opposed to canning. Throughout this document I will make a point of being reasonable, rational, and as constructive as possible in the hope that one day we can find a solution to this issue that is met with wider approval.
2) I understand that the debate over canning has put the Executive Committee in a difficult position. No matter what you do, someone is going to be upset. You’re living in a fishbowl, and as someone who was a member of the Penn State community on November 9, 2011, I know what that’s like. I realize that this document is probably going to make your lives more difficult, and a part of me truly does feel sorry for that, but at the end of the day I have to stand up for what I feel is right.
3) In the letter announcing the elimination of canning the Executive Committee stated that the decision was made, “in agreement with the University’s recommendation.” Therefore, almost every aspect of this decision can be tied back to the University.
4) Many of the people currently opposed to canning are parents who are concerned about the well being of their son or daughter. This is completely understandable. The child you raised is now hundreds of miles away for months at a time. You can no longer walk into the next room and hug them and kiss them and tell them how much you love them. But try thinking about it this way:
At one point in your high school days you may have been given an egg that you had to take care of for a week. This exercise was supposed to teach you what it’s like to be a parent. But as we all know there comes a day when an egg hatches. The same thing can be said of raising a child. The unfortunate truth is that you’re no longer the 32 year old parent of a 7 year old genius who just made the best macaroni art the world has ever seen. It may be difficult, but if you don’t trust your child to make good decisions on a canning trip, how are you going to trust them to make good decisions about what job they should take after they graduate, or who they should marry, or how they should raise their own children? It may take a lot of courage to agree to let them do this, but each year during THON Weekend your child displays a lot of courage in their own right, especially if they’re one of the 700 or so people that stay on their feet for the full 46 hours.
To you they may be a child. But to the world they are an adult. To you college may be the end. But to your child college is the beginning.
Side Note 1: When your child was in high school they might have had a part time job that helped teach them responsibility. Think of canning as a part time job that will help teach (or reinforce) the responsibility your child will need in the real world.
Side Note 2: In today’s world young people travel more than ever due to the ability of social media to coordinate trips. Think of canning as a way of “practicing” this travel.
Side Note 3: If you haven’t already I would highly recommend watching “Why We Dance: The Story of THON”, a fantastic documentary that does a great job of explaining why THON is so important to so many people.
Side Note 4: Students — Every so often take the time to pick up the phone and call your parents. They would love to hear from you. And by pick up the phone I mean actually use your phone as a phone and dial a phone number.
5) Although this document will focus on canning, it is important to remember that other fundraisers serve a vital and necessary role in THON’s mission to conquer pediatric cancer.
6) Change is a part of life, and there are many instances where change is appropriate. Over the years the Executive Committee has made many changes that have made THON better, for which they should be commended. Unlike many other alumni I support the decision to change “Paternoville” to “Nittanyville”, since Joe is no longer our head coach, and the name of the campout should reflect that. There are certain aspects of canning that should be changed, as detailed in Part 6. All things considered it was the correct call to cancel the final two canning weekends of THON 2016 in order to take the time to make sure canning is as safe as possible. However, this does not mean that canning should be phased out and eliminated.
Part 2 — The Parents’ Section
7) Hopefully the egg metaphor in Point 4 made sense, but if not here’s another way of looking at the situation:
Your child is a seed that has gone off into the world to become a tree. And like all trees this tree must have roots. Some of these roots will come in the form of the classes they take at Penn State. But by themselves these roots will not be enough to make a strong, healthy tree that can withstand everything life will throw at them. For that they must have real world experiences that will prepare them for life beyond college. Canning is one of those real world experiences.
8) Over the years you probably told your child that you’d support them no matter what. Now it’s time to make true on that promise. I understand you may be concerned, but this isn’t skydiving into a tiger infested jungle in Myanmar. There are a variety of safety regulations already in place, including a mandatory safety course. The Executive Committee has since added additional safety requirements, and this document proposes even more regulations. Your child is their own person, and if they want to go canning they should have the right to do that.
9) Everyone has their own, unique background, and I don’t mean to unjustly criticize any parents that may be reading this. However, the truth is that if your child is involved in a charity to raise money and awareness for kids with cancer, it is entirely possible that they are more mature and thoughtful than you were when you were their age.
10) We’re constantly encouraging young people to get off their phones and computers and to go out and engage with the world. Canning does just that. The same can’t be said for the various online and social media based fundraisers that may replace it.
Part 3 — If you’re old enough to die for your country…
11) If you are an adult in this country (18 years old) you are old enough to buy cigarettes, old enough to get a tattoo, old enough to appear in a pornographic movie, old enough to vote, and, most importantly, old enough to join the military and die for our country. If you are old enough to do all of these things you’re old enough to go canning.
12) There are already many instances where students are treated like adults by Penn State and their parents. For instance, students are allowed to decide what they’re going to major in, what classes they’re going to take, and how much effort they’re going to put into those classes, decisions that will ultimately affect the rest of their lives.
13) If you’re smart enough to go to college aren’t you smart enough to go canning? Especially if you go to Penn State, which, with all due respect, is not a community college? To get into Penn State students have to navigate their way through getting good grades (which may very well include Advanced Placement classes), good standardized test scores, a variety of extra-curricular activities, and a good college admissions essay. Since that point they have only become older and wiser as they’ve gained life experiences and been exposed to new things. Shouldn’t they be allowed to broaden their horizons even more by volunteering to go canning to raise money for kids with cancer?
14) THON’s famous slogan, “For The Kids!” implies that the students who participate in THON are adults, not children (Otherwise it would be “For Other Kids!”).
15) Some have said that students’ passion for THON has led them to take unnecessary risks while canning, but if canning were to be reinstated the opposite would be true. That because of their passion for THON students would can in a safe, responsible manner so that this great tradition can be continued and passed down to future generations.
16) Some individuals have said that students should not be allowed to go canning because they don’t know what it’s like to be a parent worrying about the well being of their child. While THON volunteers are not parents in the literal sense, they are parents to all of the Four Diamonds children they come into contact with, especially those children that are paired with their organization. Many volunteers develop a special bond with these kids, and spend a lot of time hoping and praying for them. (See Point 60)
17) After receiving the appropriate safety training students are permitted to use a variety of power tools, up to and including welding torches. If the process of receiving safety training and then engaging in an activity is appropriate for this, then it should be appropriate for canning and help justify the continued existence of canning.
18) There are safety concerns regarding football, however, rather than scrap the sport Penn State has joined other high school, college, and professional teams in adopting safety regulations to make it safer. The same strategy can be applied to canning (See Part 6: Ways to Modify Canning)
19) As noted in the “Frequently Asked Questions” addendum to the letter announcing the elimination of canning, “There is inherent risk in anything a person participates in, including other activities students engage in”. Does this mean that we should ban students from going to football games? Or walking across campus? Or lifting weights at the gym?
20) Students are allowed to participate in University sponsored study abroad and alternative spring break opportunities. It is certainly going to rub a lot of people the wrong way that students can spend three weeks in Kenya but can’t spend two days in a community a few hours away.
Part 4 — Travel
21) There are 8 times a year (beginning of the school year, Thanksgiving (twice), Winter Break (twice), Spring Break (twice), end of the school year) where the number of students traveling to and from Penn State is more than the number of students who go canning.
22) As others have pointed out, students can go to University sanctioned away football games by purchasing tickets through the athletic department. Schools like Ohio State and Michigan are seven hours away from Penn State, and the amount of driving needed to get to and from these locations is more than the amount of driving done on almost any canning trip.
23) Many people, including recent alumni, drive back to Penn State for home football games. Therefore, why is it okay for a 23 year old alumni to drive four hours each way for a sporting event, but it’s not okay for a 22 year old student to drive two hours each way to go canning? Especially when you consider that Penn State is encouraging recent alumni to come back for home football games, which outnumber canning weekends seven to three.
Side Note: Assuming a sell-out, 85,000 people commute to and from Penn State for home football games (students in the student section are already in State College). This means that each year the University puts 1,190,000 people on the road for football games (85,000 x 7 x 2; the Spring Game is not included in this calculation). As noted in Point 21, there are 8 times a year when the 46,000 students at University Park travel to and from campus. (Obviously this number increases when commonwealth campuses are included.) When this number is added the total climbs to 1,558,000 people (Note: This figure does not include the high school students and their parents that travel to and from Penn State for the various summer camps the University offers. Some of these camps have their own field trips where students are transported by bus.) By comparison, roughly 10,000 people go on a canning trip, which amounts to a total of around 60,000 people (10,000 x 3 x 2). For those who are wondering, 60,000 is roughly 26 times smaller than 1,558,000. Also, this means that more people travel (one-way) for a home football game than the entire number of people that travel on a canning trip. This simple math justifies the continuation of canning. Furthermore, if the University allows people to travel for football but not canning they open themselves up to charges of a “Culture” problem.
Side Note 2: A theme has developed (Points 18 and 23) in that the University will have trouble justifying the continuation of football while eliminating canning. One possible solution is to eliminate football, but if that were going to happen it would have happened already.
24) Each Fall THON holds a “Family Carnival” that requires Four Diamonds families to drive to Penn State. In addition, Four Diamonds families have to drive to Penn State for THON itself, as do the parents and family members of dancers, as do students from commonwealth campuses. Why is it acceptable for these people to drive to and from Penn State, but not canners, especially when you consider that some students from commonwealth campuses are canners?
25) If THON’s volunteers can “travel far and wide” to spread THON’s message, then why can’t they travel a much shorter distance to actually raise money?
26) In the Frequently Asked Questions addendum to the letter announcing the elimination of canning the Executive Committee addressed why canvassing, where students go door to door in residential neighborhoods, is still permitted. The explanation said, in part, “The designation of Fundraising Outreach & Canning Weekends leads to a much higher concentration of volunteers being put on the road at once, which is not seen when organizations go out to canvass.” The notion that canning is in part being eliminated due to a high number of students on the road at once suggests that politics were a factor in this decision.
Part 5 — The Money
27) The Executive Committee has focused on the notion that there are more effective ways of raising money, and that ultimately this is the official reason the canning is being phased out. Those in favor of canning should make a point of addressing this in their arguments.
28) The Executive Committee has said that going forward fundraising will focus on online donations and physical checks, but few details have been given as to how this will be accomplished.
29) The Executive Committee has implied that any new fundraisers and canning are mutually exclusive in the sense that there are not enough time and resources to do both. Until proven otherwise it would have to be assumed that there are enough time and resources to do both, especially if it is not clear what these new fundraisers are.
30) As noted in this Onward State article, the math regarding the supposed ineffectiveness of canning is fuzzy at best. The Executive Committee should release the numbers used to calculate the percentages, especially since they routinely release much more detailed information regarding fundraising. The Summary of Fundraising page states, in part, “The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon strives to maintain its transparency to the public. With the multitude of charities today, THON recognizes the responsibility it has to provide all of its donors, volunteers, and supporters with updated information on the effectiveness of both their time and donations.”
31) Although the exact number varies from year to year, there are roughly 160 days in the official fundraising window where students are allowed to solicit donations. Roughly 25% of THON’s total ($3 million, see Point 32) is raised on six of these days, the Saturday and Sunday of the 3 canning weekends, or 4% of the total days.
32) Although exact numbers are not known, it can be safely assumed that on average canning weekends bring in about $1 million a piece, for a total of $3 million a year*. According to the data THON has provided on its website and YouTube videos $3 million could be divided in the following ways:
- 50,000 hours of child life coverage in inpatient/outpatient units
- 33,333 hours of psychological counseling for patients and their families
- 20,000 days of outpatient treatment for a leukemia patient
- 10,000 wigs for a patient who has lost hair during treatment
- 3,000 days of assistance by a team of social workers
- 600 days of research (salary and supplies)
Even if canning is “stagnant”, isn’t this still worth doing?
* $3 million is a conservative estimate that assumes that 10,000 people go on each canning trip (there are 16,500 people in THON), and that each of these people raise a total of $100 dollars per trip, or, assuming 7 hours of canning, about $15/hour. Since the total for THON 2016 was down $3.3 million, and since THON 2016 had two fewer canning trips, it could also be assumed that the average amount raised per canning trip is closer to $1.5 million. (Under this theory 33% of THON’s money is raised on 4% of the days.) Assuming 10,000 people per trip this breaks down to $150 per person per trip, or (assuming 7 hours of canning) around $20/hour. During my time canning I raised between $15-$45 dollars an hour, so this seems reasonable (the $45/hour was in New Jersey). All of these estimates are conservative in that they assume 7 hours of canning, which can be done on one day (Saturday). Many organizations can for at least part of Sunday as well. These estimates are supported by articles like this one that discuss how ten special interest organizations raised almost $400,000 the first canning weekend of THON 2015. There are 29 special interest organizations, and although they tend to be larger than their peers, they make up only 8% of all THON organizations.
33) Only one other dance marathon in the country (Indiana University Dance Marathon) has raised more than $3 million in a single year. THON is able to do this in three weekends. How can the Executive Committee claim that canning is not effective?
34) Indiana University Dance Marathon has canning, as do dance marathons at The University of Missouri, Purdue University, The University of Michigan, The University of Iowa, Ball State, Washington University in St. Louis, The University of Connecticut, Rutgers University, Florida State University, The University of Georgia, Northwestern University, The Ohio State University, The University of Delaware, Iowa State, The University of Maryland, and St. Ambrose University. If canning is “ineffective” then why do all of these dance marathons do it? Especially when you consider that the more people you have the more effective canning is, and THON has more people than anyone.
a. Schools in the neighboring states of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Ohio all have canning. These are places that THON currently cans in, and if canning is eliminated these schools will have a larger presence at the expense of THON. While that is great for those schools, it cannot possibly be in the best interest of THON. THON will also lose ground in Pennsylvania to Temple and Pitt, which have their own dance marathons.
b. The canning page for MizzouThon states, amongst other things, “Canning is one of the best ways to help us raise money” and “Canning is one of the most important parts of MizzouThon fundraising, and we can’t do it without volunteers.”
c. “Canister Solicitation is one of the most profitable forms of fundraising for The University of Iowa Dance Marathon”
d. “Canning is an easy way to make a lot of money in a short amount of time! You can make $100-$200 in just a couple of hours.” — Dance Marathon at Washington University in St. Louis
e. “Canning is by far one of the easiest and most productive ways to raise your total for Miracle. It’s basically free money!” — University of Georgia Miracle Dance Marathon.
35) It is very likely that the amount of money raised per day on canning trips is higher than the amount of money raised per day by any other means of fundraising. If the Executive Committee has statistics to the contrary they should share them.
36) The decision to eliminate canning is sure to upset many alumni, a key source of donations. Some alumni already upset over other decisions have started donating directly to Four Diamonds. While its great that the money ultimately ends up in the same place, it would be nice if it passed through THON along the way.
37) Each year some donations are made directly to THON, and are not credited to a specific THON organization. When this money is subtracted from the total, and only the money raised by organizations is considered, the percentage of money raised by canning becomes much larger, thereby emphasizing the importance of canning to organizations. The Executive Committee themselves recognized this in the “Frequently Asked Questions” addendum to the letter announcing the elimination of canning, stating, “the bulk of our organizations rely heavily on canning to fundraise and motivate their volunteers.”
38) The Executive Committee has said that, “canning has not seen significant growth in many years”, however, this is not necessarily a bad thing. The enrollment at University Park has not seen significant growth in many years, but this doesn’t mean that Penn State is going to abandon it and instead focus on commonwealth campuses.
39) The letter announcing the elimination of canning cites a 19% increase in the amount raised by physical checks since 2012. Most check donations to THON come in the form of THONvelopes. Organizations often send THONvelopes to former members who have since graduated. Therefore, at least a portion of this increase appears to be artificial, since some of the money is just coming from former THON volunteers. In addition, the number of former organization members increases every year, as does their earning power and the amount of money they can donate to THON.
40) The letter announcing the elimination of canning also cites a 32% increase in the amount of money raised online since 2012. It is entirely possible that this increase has been steady and consistent, as implied. However, it is also possible that there was a sharp increase followed by a period of muted growth. For instance, the increases could have been 14% (2012–2013), 10% (2013–2014), 5% (2014–2015), 3% (2015–2016)*. This theory is supported by the fact that THON saw dramatic increases from 2012–2013 ($10.6 million to $12.3 million) and 2013–2014 ($12.3 million to $13.3 million) before leveling off the past few years ($13.3 million to $13.0 million to $9.7 million (minus two canning trips)). Therefore, when viewed as the difference from 2012–2016 the increase may appear impressive, when in fact it has been relatively small for the past few years.
*Side Note I: The year-over-year percentage increases may not add up to the total increase of 32%. In this example they do for the sake of simplicity.
- Suppose you raised $100 one year and $114 the next. That’s a 14% increase. Suppose the following year you raised $125. That’s a 9.6% increase over the previous year. When this number is added to the 14% increase it suggests a total increase of 23.6%. However, the actual total increase ($100-$125) is 25%.
Side Note II: Those of you familiar with calculus and derivatives may realize that, under this theory, the year-over-year percentage increase in online donations is decreasing (i.e. the slope is approaching zero), while the year-over-year percentage increase for canning is remaining constant at around 1 or 2 percent. This means that eventually, in percentage terms, canning will become more profitable than online donations. This is irrelevant of the fact that the raw dollar amount brought in by canning may be more than the raw dollar amount brought in by online donations.
41) It’s likely that one of the reasons canning is being “phased out” instead of immediately eliminated is that eliminating it before new fundraisers can be put into place would allow people to see how much money canning actually brings in. The total for THON 2016, which only had one canning trip instead of the normal three, was down $3.3 million despite gains in other forms of fundraising.
42) The Executive Committee has made it clear that they would like to expand THON’s brand nationally, and that since canning is limited by geography that this is a reason canning should be eliminated. However, there’s no reason that canning can’t serve as a “base” while other fundraisers expand THON’s influence to other regions. Similarly, James Franklin has made it clear that Penn State Football will recruit a wide area (Side Note, Point 53), however, the program will also “dominate the state”.
43) Canning is an outward looking fundraiser that looks to solicit money from the general public. Many of the fundraisers that may replace it are likely to be inward looking fundraisers that ask financially burdened college students to donate to THON.
44) After reviewing the information regarding the financial impact of canning it appears that the Executive Committee has been deceptive. This is likely to cause a lack of trust that may expand into other areas. One way to counter this would be to take a logical, safety-oriented approach to reinstituting canning.
Part 6 — Ways to Modify Canning
45) Many realistic ideas have been developed about how canning could be modified without being eliminated. For instance:
a. An organization could be suspended from the next canning trip if they are found in violation of the rules. This would include the issue of “forced fundraising”, or pressuring people to go on a canning trip. Since canning trips are very important to organizations (Point 37) this would be an extremely effective deterrent.
b. If an individual student is found guilty of a canning violation on three separate occasions, that student is banned from canning. If an organization allows such a student to come with them on a canning trip, that organization will be suspended for the next trip.
c. Canning at intersections could be limited to roads with two lanes in each direction, including turning lanes.
d. Organizations could be required to register spots at both intersections and storefronts, so that if someone was uncomfortable canning at an intersection they could can at a storefront.
46) A balanced, comprehensive approach to reinstating canning would be to conduct the canning weekends for THON 2017 and 2018 as previously announced, and, if there were no major issues on these three trips, implement two canning weekends for THON 2019 with canning at both intersections and storefronts. If there were no major issues on these two trips THON 2020 would return to the full complement of three trips with canning at both intersections and storefronts. This phasing out and phasing back in would allow students to demonstrate that they are responsible enough to engage in this activity while also addressing the safety concerns that have been raised. In addition, it means that by the time canning at intersections is reinstated for THON 2019 the senior class would have been on one canning trip where canning at intersections was allowed, thus weeding out any bad habits that may have developed. By that point the only thing students would know are THON’s strict safety guidelines on the topic.
Part 7 — The Big Finale
47) We live in turbulent times. Everyone can see that. As a country we’re debating contentious issues like what bathroom transgender individuals should use, what our immigration policy should be, and how we should approach guns and the Second Amendment. Some people look at Donald Trump and think, “My God, he might actually become President!” THON, and especially canning, provide a measure of stability. Someone can look at a canner and be reminded that despite everything else, there are still good people in the world. They can see the passion that the canners have for THON, they can see the research that is being done because of THON, and they can think to themselves, “My God, they might actually do it. They might actually find a cure for cancer!” For a brief moment, anyone who sees a canner can see into that person’s soul and see who they really are. They can see someone’s soul not when blood is coming out of their chest, or when tears are coming out of their eyes, but when they are epitomizing the best that humanity has to offer. All of THON’s fundraisers help people, but none do so as visibly as canning. In their own small way, each canner helps fight back against the evil that exists in the world. Or to put it another way: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” — Fred “Mister” Rogers
48) Canning provides a level of energy, excitement, and enthusiasm that is not found in other forms of fundraising. This passion is what draws people to THON. Many older adults like the fact that THON is part of the college experience, where you can dream big, audacious dreams while going to parties and showing up to class in a hoodie and jeans. The University recognizes the appeal of college as well and has contracted with the Alumni Association to let former students stay in the dorms during Arts Fest.
49) Canning provides a personal, individual touch in a world where many things seem big and distant. This is something the University has picked up on by having current students volunteer to be tour guides to prospective students and their parents, instead of just giving everyone headsets and having them walk around campus on an audio tour.
50) Canning shows the human side of THON in a way few other fundraisers can. This “Humans of THON” aspect of canning could be captured by Humans of New York photographer Brandon Stanton (or any other pre-approved person with a camera) and shared online, thus serving as a form of online fundraising that will help spread THON’s message globally.
51) Canning is a great way to introduce THON to young people and thus spread THON’s mission. During the 2014–2015 school year Mini-THONs raised $4.3 million. Last school year this number jumped to $5.5 million
52) Canning provides an opportunity for ordinary people to make a difference. For instance, someone could be driving to the store to buy a toothbrush, see a canner, donate $1.37, and spend the rest of the day knowing that they did something that matters.
53) Even if individuals do not donate directly to a canner, they will see the sign, remember THON, and possibly donate online and/or tell family members and friends.
54) Canning provides a physical presence, something the University has acknowledged is important by virtue of spending what must amount to over $1 billion to build and maintain 19 commonwealth campuses that give Penn State a physical presence throughout Pennsylvania. Besides, isn’t having a physical presence part of the “Penn State Lives Here” campaign?
Side Note: The University’s most visible asset, the football team, has also recognized the importance of having a physical presence and has begun operating “satellite camps” in areas with large numbers of desirable recruits.
55) People have brought up the time commitment involved with canning, but what’s wrong with being dedicated to something? Especially something like raising money for kids with cancer. Besides, how is the time commitment associated with canning that different from the time commitment associated with a home football weekend? On such a weekend students are likely to go out Friday night, spend Saturday tailgating/going to the game/going out again before sleeping in on Sunday. Around the time they get around to doing anything Sunday afternoon is around the time they would get back from a canning trip.
56) In his letter announcing his return to Cleveland LeBron James stated: “My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.” Likewise, canning’s relationship with THON is bigger than how much money canning raises.
57) As the arguments against canning slip away, the case for eliminating it is increasingly going to become “Just because”, just as the case against gay marriage has increasingly become “Just because”.
58) THON’s goal of conquering childhood cancer is best represented by John F. Kennedy’s quote about going to the moon: “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”
How can you conquer new frontiers if you’re sitting in a dorm room in East Halls? Columbus didn’t discover America by staying in Italy. Lewis and Clark didn’t explore the Louisiana Purchase by staying in St. Louis. And THON is not going to conquer childhood cancer if it is too scared to leave campus.
59) If canning is reinstated it should not be viewed as a victory of one side over the other, but rather everyone coming to a better understanding of this issue. I understand the concerns of parents, the concerns of the Executive Committee, and the concerns of the University. But ultimately, as a community, we are not scared.
60) If you’re a parent your child means everything to you. But if your child is involved with THON it’s possible that canning means everything to them. And this isn’t the “everything” they came to you with in high school when they wanted to go to a certain party or to have a car. This is something that actually matters.
If canning is reinstated you might very well ask your child to look you in the eye and promise that they’re going to be responsible, that they’re going to be safe. And on one of the trips your child’s organization may stay at the home of their Four Diamonds family, real, actual people that have some of the same hopes and dreams and fears as you. And on that trip your child is going to interact with a seven year old. But unlike your seven year old making macaroni art this seven year old has had cancer half their life, is bald from chemo, and has a nose tube held in place by a cute little frog sticker. And at some point your child is going to look at this kid, all 4’ 3”, 79 pounds of them, kneel down in front of them, put their hands on the little angel’s shoulders, wipe away the tears, look them in the eye, and say, “I did everything I could. There wasn’t one more thing I could’ve done.”
In the eyes of many THON is just a nice, abstract thing. Nice in the sense that it’s morally the right thing to do, nice in the sense that it looks good on a resume, nice in the sense that it sounds good in conversation. To others THON is just an abstract thing. Somehow students raise money, and that money goes towards research, and somewhere there’s a kid in a hospital who’s going to live an extra two months because of it. But at the end of the day THON is not a nice, abstract thing. It’s family. It’s a child celebrating their 8th birthday in a hospital room and not being able to eat their own birthday cake because it’s incompatible with the cocktail of medications that’s being stuffed into them. And at the end of the day, if that was your child, there’s a good chance you would want canners out there in a safe manner raising every last penny they could.
I understand that somewhere out there the parents of Tally Sepot may be reading this. And I understand that to your last breath you’re going to remember the day that Tally passed away. But I also know that every last parent who has ever walked through the doors of the oncology unit at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital remembers the day they were told, “Your child has cancer.” Some of these children will live. Some will not. They are not alone. You are not alone. And with canning we are one step closer to a day when everyone — Children. Parents. Penn State students. Everyone. — can live in a world without this dreaded disease.
- Every year the band Go Go Gadjet plays a 40 minute set towards the end of THON. These performances are very entertaining in-and-of themselves, but even more so when you realize they are part of a dance marathon to raise money for kids with cancer. In collaboration with Go Go Gadjet THON should look to sell videos of these performances on iTunes and Amazon, with part of the profits going to THON.
- THON should run a commercial during the Super Bowl. A 30 second spot costs $5 million, but if THON and Four Diamonds thought it was a good use of money it’s definitely possible, especially since Mini-THONs now bring in north of $5 million/year. In addition THON has previously raised enough money to cover the treatment costs of all Four Diamonds patients; the money being raised now goes towards research. 110 million Americans watch the Super Bowl each year, which means that if just 4.5% of them donated $1 THON would make its money back. In addition to the absolutely perfect timing (the Super Bowl is two weeks before THON) the commercial would serve as an opportunity to highlight the positive aspects of Penn State to America. Most importantly it would be the commercial that everyone is talking about the next day, not only by people around the water cooler but by people on talk shows and news programs.
- THON should use a potential Super Bowl commercial as the basis of marketing the final four hours of THON as its own event. Many chapters of the alumni association have watch parties for the Final Four, where the webcast is hooked up to a television. THON could expand on this via a second commercial on its website and social media platforms:
(As peaceful, melodic music plays in the background accompanied by video of THON) “In today’s fast paced world we don’t often have a chance to reflect on what truly matters. But on Sunday, February 19th THON will provide you with that opportunity. Gather with family and friends and spend an afternoon laughing, crying, and dancing as we move one step closer to a world without cancer. Brought to you by Penn State.”
(“Parents: Isn’t this the kind of warm, comforting environment you are looking for in a university? Penn State has a wide variety of highly ranked academic programs and diverse campus life. Your child’s Spring Break is coming up, so take this opportunity to schedule a tour to see all that Penn State has to offer.”)
- Penn State has the largest alumni network in the world. Many of these alumni were involved with THON. Therefore, it would be worthwhile to develop an “open-house” system where students and alumni from around the county could promote THON. These events could begin with a video that highlights THON, after which volunteers could talk about their experience with THON. Alumni chapters could organize events for their particular area, and current students could participate as well if the timing permitted it. In fact, if the events were held around Thanksgiving and Christmas students already home for the Holidays could be involved quite easily. Furthermore, since these events would be based on geography, a variety of students from different organizations and committees could be at the same event, which along with the alumni participation would show the breadth of THON. This would be a great way to get alumni involved while creating the kind of personal connections that are necessary to spread THON’s mission.
- THON should look to establish a celebrity softball game or golf tournament to be held during Arts Fest at Medlar Field or one of the Penn State Golf Courses. Various “Penn State Celebrities” could participate, with a ticket price of $10. For an additional $5 you could get autographs from the various participants. If these celebrities are known outside of Penn State (i.e. current or former football players) they could tweet about the event, thus bringing more attention to THON. Since this is an athletic event it’s conceivable it could get a shout out on ESPN or another sports based platform.