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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Dance Marathon at UF celebrates money raised to help fight against pediatric illnesses

The student-led non-profit held “Moralloween,” a celebration for their fundraising efforts

Hannah Strickland, 5, surveys the festivities in her Princess Ariel costume during Dance Marathon at UF's Moralloween event at Flavet Field on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021.
Hannah Strickland, 5, surveys the festivities in her Princess Ariel costume during Dance Marathon at UF's Moralloween event at Flavet Field on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021.

Jada Turner, a Dance Marathon Miracle Child, was diagnosed at a young age with a chromosomal disorder that made her prone to cancers. But on Wednesday, a crowd of other families and students celebrated her for being seven months cancer-free as she stood on a stage in Flavet Field. 

“It’s not just about the money; it’s about the support and the family you make here,” Jada’s mother Stephanie Turner, said. “This is an amazing organization, we cannot thank you enough.”

Jada’s story is one example of the many lives that have been positively impacted by the fundraising efforts Dance Marathon at UF helps coordinate. The student-led non-profit organization hosted Moralloween to celebrate its successes during its big fall fundraising push Transform Today.  

Transform Today is a yearly event in which Dance Marathon participants have 26.2 hours to fundraise as much money as possible. The money is then donated to the purchasing of hospital equipment and enhancements for the children’s stay in the hospital, said Kristina Smith, the organization’s public relations director.

At about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, the sounds of lively chatter and music were replaced with a silence that hung in the air as costumed Moralloween attendees anticipated the grand reveal of the total money fundraised the previous day. 

Twelve members were met with a burst of cheers as they lifted signs that proudly displayed the total amount of donations: $589,484.19. The participants raised about $10,600 more during this year’s Transform Today than last year’s event.

The student volunteers looked forward to celebrating the donation reveal and their hard work, but the event’s meaning went beyond this. About 50 Miracle Families, with children battling pediatric illnesses, have agreed to be representatives for UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital and Children’s Miracle Network. As representatives, they speak out about their medical journeys and how Children’s Miracle Network helped them. 

Families came to the event dressed up in everything from pickle suits to Dalmatian costumes to enjoy the booths filled with fun games and candy prizes organized by students. 

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Oliver Sleeper (left), 10, and Ezra Sleeper (right), 6, enjoy the festivities organized for Dance Marathon at UF's Moralloween event at Flavet Field on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021.

The donations raised are not tangible, Smith said, and the volunteers do not necessarily get to see where all their efforts go.

“So [Moralloween] is the tangible thing that we can say ‘this is why we do what we do’ because they come and share their stories and talk about what a great support system we have been for them,” she said.   

Parents believe Moralloween is a time for the children whose lives are being changed to spend time with those changing it, making this a mutually rewarding experience. David Essex’s daughter Claire is one of the 50 Miracle Children, and his family was excited to attend the event. 

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Emily Essex, 2, walks hand-in-hand with her father, David Essex, 38, during Dance Marathon at UF's Moralloween event at Flavet Field on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021.

“This is great for kids who have disabilities to get out and experience normal stuff,” Essex said. “With the pandemic, they’ve been shut in for a long time and this gives them a good opportunity.” 

Being able to attend an event with the community that is supporting them in their harder times is an important part of what makes being involved in this program so appealing to the Strickland family, whose daughter Hannah is a Miracle Child. 

“The students are amazing,” Dawn Strickland, Hannah’s mother, said. “I can’t imagine being that selfless at that age.” 

Contact Elena Barrera at ebarrera@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @elenabarreraaa.



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Elena Barrera

Elena is a second-year journalism major with a minor in health sciences. She is currently the University Administration reporter for The Alligator. When she is not writing, Elena loves to work out, go to the beach and spend time with her friends and family.


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