Dancing toward a great cause

May 20, 2021
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Since 2006, an expanding group of University of Massachusetts-Amherst students, faculty, staff, alumni, and their supporters brought their own version of dance fever to campus with an annual marathon that has raised to date almost $1 million to benefit Baystate Children’s Hospital, the region’s only Children’s Miracle Network Hospital.

The group known as UMass FTK (For The Kids), has held the get-your-feet-moving dance marathon annually, raising $10,000-$25,000 in the first few years. The event has evolved by changing venues, switching from overnight to a daytime marathon, and moving it from fall to spring. Student organizers broadened the reach of supporters from on-campus-only to include businesses and organizations in the greater community. Social media efforts also helped increase awareness and participation to more than 2,000 dancers and donors per year.

More recently, UMass FTK expanded to a yearlong endeavor featuring fundraising events, such as a carnival and 5K run, and which culminates with the dance marathon.

Michael Wiseman, who retired in August 2020 as associate director of Student Engagement and Leadership, initiated the dance marathon project, sought student volunteers, and drummed up financial support from Student Affairs with a goal of involving students in philanthropy and in the community. He oversaw the relationship between Baystate Health Foundation and FTK, and brought students on field trips to Baystate Children’s Hospital to meet the young patients and their families.

“UMass FTK has become a more viable and vibrant organization thanks to the commitment of the increasing number of participants,” Michael said. “Some student volunteers totally changed the trajectory of their studies and their goals. Some have gone into healthcare because of the experience.”

UMass senior Donald “DJ” Kenney, four-year volunteer and current FTK president, says raising money creates hope for those patients, known as Miracle Children.

“They rely on donors like our organization to help these kids,” shared DJ. “We can see the impact that our donations make year after year…and the smiles on our Miracle Children’s faces when they walk into dance marathon.”

The coronavirus pandemic could have easily derailed the 2020 dance marathon, but student organizers were steadfast in finding an alternate plan. A virtual Zoom event was held on May 2, 2020, and included performance videos submitted by various clubs on campus, Miracle Children sharing their talents, pre-recorded videos with encouraging messages from Baystate Health representatives and the Children’s Miracle Network, clips of participants moving to a “Morale Dance” to keep everyone’s spirits up, and Power Hour segments featuring fundraising for specific needs of the hospital.

When all was said and done, the event raised an incredible $215,050. This is the third-consecutive year the fundraising topped $200,000.

Although retired, Michael said he plans to provide moral support and look for opportunities to support future relationships for the project.

Madison “Mattie” Barany, who served on multiple FTK committees and was president in 2019-2020, believes every child should “have the opportunity to grow up healthy and happy.”

“Directly seeing the impact your fundraising dollars can make on a child’s life is the best feeling ever,” said Mattie, who graduated in 2020. “It’s incredible to see them walk out of the hospital with a smile on their face and the family not seeing them in pain.”

Learn more about initiatives like this that you can support through Baystate Health Foundation.

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