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What We Learned: San Diego State University

Against the odds, on October 22nd, 2020, Dance Marathon at San Diego State University raised $53,756.96 For The Kids at Rady’s Children’s Hospital in just one day.

It happened during the aptly named “Miracle Week,” a week-long annual fall event explaining the Dance Marathon movement through themed days: inspiration, recruitment, education, fundraising, and stewardship. Traditionally, the majority of event participants are recruited and tens of thousands of dollars are raised during this special week. Its importance could not be overstated, and one could argue that, given the circumstances, a “miracle” would be needed for its success to compare to a regular year.

After the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the university administration made the decision to shift the entire school year to an online format and disallow all non-essential campus activities. As Miracle Week is typically designed to take place on campus, it had to be reimagined — and fast. Students would have to switch from tabling and in-person events to a 100% virtual format relying heavily on social media. Considering the shift, Directors of Special Events, felt it was important to prepare far in advance in order to make Miracle Week as impactful as it had been in previous years.

While no one thought it would be easy, this challenge was small compared to those faced by Rady Children’s patients every day.

In the spirit of recognizing the strength of kid patients, it was decided that Miracle Week’s dedicated fundraising day should honor Reese, San Diego State’s kid honorary leadership team member and “Rady Rockstar.” Reese is 4 years old and tells her family she loves them “forty-a-thousand,” the biggest number she knows. It felt only natural to make the day’s goal $40,000. We knew raising $40,000 would be a huge undertaking, and, to encourage participants, we decided to kick off fundraising day with a touch of extra inspiration.

Dance Marathon at SDSU has held events with this purpose in the past, namely a “Circle of Hope Ceremony” during which everyone gathered together in a circle to embody everlasting hope for Rady patients, but this year would need to look a little different. Given the circumstances of the year, the decision was made to create a “Light of Hope” ceremony on the evening of Miracle Week’s education day (Wednesday) right before fundraising day instead.

The ultimate goal of the ceremony was to highlight why Dance Marathon at SDSU does what it does and remind those present that not every story has a happy ending as not all children are able to be saved. The Light of Hope format allowed for a more interactive experience as participants united and shone lights (flashlight, phone light, etc) to signify the flame of hope Dance Marathon brings and symbolize the hundreds of lights at the hospital that won’t go out tonight. We also aimed to inspire new participants to find and focus on their “why” as well as bring the perspective that they are the hope for these kids who often have little. During a special moment of the event, children who have passed away were honored.

As on-campus advertising wasn’t possible, social media promotion was essential in ensuring turnout. “Be the Light and Join the Fight” was chosen as this effort’s theme and aimed to encourage participants to feel truly motivated in their fundraising efforts in preparation for the following fundraising day. The leadership team shared social media content announcing the ceremony, and a team member who had a connection with San Diego State’s President, was able to get the official SDSU Twitter account to share the event.

“As part of a year-long fundraising effort to benefit @radychildrens, please join the Light of Hope virtual ceremony tonight from 9 – 9:30 pm to honor the children we fight so passionately for.”

Standing in solidarity with the Dance Marathon movement, SDSU’s President also attended the event with some of her staff.

The collaborative efforts between Dance Marathon at SDSU VP of Finance, VP of External Affairs, CMN Hospitals Cause Partnerships Manager, and Rady Children’s Hospital Advisor made the ceremony a success beyond anyone’s expectations. Zoom practice runs before the actual ceremony in addition to a script made sure everything went smoothly.

The Light of Hope ceremony began with a slideshow featuring in-treatment photos of kids that the Dance Marathon at SDSU movement works with and fundraises for. These photos put into perspective the important work of the organization and how it makes a direct impact on the lives of children at Rady’s Children’s Hospital.

We began the ceremony by walking participants through the emotions of a child learning they have cancer and explaining why “lights of hope” are so important for families in that unthinkable situation. We then played Ella’s story and asked event participants to share why they’re For The Kids in the chat and then shine a light with their phones and/or flashlights to symbolize the hope and light they create. After everyone finished sharing, participants pointed their lights to the sky in a “wave” to Ella and kids like her. This interactive experience meant participants could truly feel what Dance Marathon fights so passionately for, even in their own homes. We concluded the ceremony by sharing a leadership team member’s “why” and reminding attendees that they are the light of hope today so that kids can have a tomorrow. To bring the event full circle, the slideshow showed photos of the kids featured at the beginning having fun at Dance Marathon instead of in the hospital.

Such a successful ceremony led to the next day’s fundraising efforts being $13,000 more than the original $40,000 goal, a grand total of $53,756.96. This was a larger total than the Dance Marathon at SDSU’s first year of fundraising 6 years prior. It left the whole leadership team and participants in complete shock and awe of what hard work and true dedication can do. The Light of Hope ceremony truly encouraged participants to continue the efforts of the Dance Marathon movement, even during these challenging times.




Miracle Network Dance Marathon is an international movement, involving over 400 colleges, universities and K-12 schools across North America that fundraise for their local Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. Since its inception in 1991, Miracle Network Dance Marathon has raised more than $300 million–ensuring that no child or family fights pediatric illness or injury alone.

Learn more about Miracle Network Dance Marathon:

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