Students share experiences with UCF philanthropy 'Knight-Thon'

Knight-Thon Director Drew Strochak with a Miracle Child. Courtesy of Drew Strochak.

Whether you've danced at Knight-Thon, been on a team or just donated some spare change to a bucket, most students have heard of the event. What some people don't know is just what students get out of the experience.

Knight-Thon is UCF's largest student-run philanthropy. Each year, students, staff and the Orlando community raise money to benefit Children's Miracle Network Hospitals.

Some student organizations turn fundraising for the event into a friendly competition all for a greater cause. Knight-Thon registered student organization engagement coordinator Shelby Graves is responsible for getting as many student organizations as possible involved with the event, offer incentives and support as they raise money. Graves got involved with the Knight-Thon leadership team after her experience as a participant in the event last year.

"Once I got there, I was just so inspired by all the kids and all of their stories. I spent like an hour hanging out with Lauren, she was this little two-year-old angel," Graves said. "I'm so excited to see her again this year. She'll be back. A lot of the kids come back."

During the 20-hour dance marathon, children who have been treated in a Children's Miracle Network Hospital, Miracle Children, share their stories with the dancers. Funds from the event stay locally, going to the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies, both in Orlando, as well as Shands Children's Hospital in Gainesville.

Director of Knight-Thon Drew Strochak was involved with the event for three years. She said she's been touched by many Miracle Children and their families, but there's also one big push that keeps her motivated and passionate about the cause.

"There's nothing more powerful than watching an entire community come together for one cause and watching this campus unite for these kids," Strochak said. "Without the money we provide, they may not be able to have the tomorrow that we can give to them now."

This year's theme, "Dare to Make a Difference" has challenged teams to fundraise in a different way. Knight-Thon encourages donors to choose a dare to complete if a certain amount of money is raised. Strochak said she's seen anything from shaving heads, cutting hair to tattoos.

Graves said regardless of the dares and incentives, one day sticks out in her mind that really put the reason she participates into perspective. One day, a student at the reflecting pond asked why she buckets and does all these things for Knight-Thon. It was there that she realized how impactful her efforts could be.

"I would like to think that someday when I'm a mom, heaven forbid they have to be put into a children's hospital, because one in ten kids goes to a children's hospital at some point in their lives, that there's someone out there, doing a dance marathon wherever I am located in the United States, that is walking around with a yellow bucket and they're supporting my kid," Graves said.

Knight-Thon is on Saturday starting at noon in the CFE Arena.

Story by Jazmyne Hankerson.

Photos courtesy Knight-Thon and Drew Strochak.

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