HuskerThon 2020 booth

Students interact with the Dance Marathon booth in the Nebraska Union on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The 15th annual University of Nebraska-Lincoln Dance Marathon, HuskerThon 2020, will take place this Saturday to support Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha. 

Over 1,200 UNL students will join together for a 12-hour celebration to thank those who participated in fundraising. Each year, the marathon has a new and exciting atmosphere with different performers and activities. This year’s marathon is safari-themed, rousing attendees to go “wild for the life of a child.” 

Executive Director Madeline Mohatt said she will enjoy her fourth and final year participating in the HuskerThon. 

“It will be extremely neat to see all of our efforts come together to put on this 12 hour long event,” Mohatt said.

Each participant must raise $100 to partake in the dance floor festivities on Saturday, but many have surpassed this goal and strive toward higher personal and group goals. Participants can choose to work individually or join a team such as their fraternity, sorority, residence hall or club. Mohatt initially set a personal goal of $3,500 and later increased it to $5,000. She’s currently at $3,491. 

The overall goal of UNL’s Dance Marathon is to raise $225,000, which is almost 10% higher than the total amount raised last year. The money raised will help fund the construction of two nesting rooms and a staff lounge for the fetal care center as well as a neonatal intensive care unit inside Children’s Hospital.

This is senior business administration major Marissa Ramos’ first year as a participant and team captain for a team comprised of residents from The Courtyards. As captain, Ramos communicates with her team members and pushes them to fundraise throughout the year. With encouragement from Dance Marathon recruiter Allie Kingsley, Ramos took up the challenge to raise the minimum $100.

“It kind of seems like a lot of money, so that was my initial goal,” Ramos said. “As time went on, money just kept coming and people kept donating. It was just amazing to see how much people were willing to support.”

Ramos personally raised $1,243 and her team raised just over $3,000. Both Ramos and Mohatt often sought donations from family and friends through personal connections, although Ramos and her team used incentives to help raise money. They provided room service for Courtyard residents, which included grilled cheese sandwiches and soup, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Oreo balls and pop. 

“Everything we raised from that, we put toward our Dance Marathon team and divided it up between people who were still trying to reach their goals or were furthest away,” Ramos said.

Participants are also encouraged by the executive team to share the cause on their social media accounts through several “push days,” which involve setting a goal for the Dance Marathon group to raise a certain amount. The highest amount brought in from a push day was around $30,000 in 2018. In January, the group’s goal was to raise $48,000 in 48 hours. 

“I was extremely terrified after the first day. We weren’t looking anywhere close to hitting that goal,” Mohatt said. “We ended up somehow blowing it out of the water. We raised around $51,000.”

Mohatt said she recalls looking up to the executive staff her freshman year, inspired by their hard work and intelligence. 

“I’m still in awe of the people involved in this organization,” Mohatt said. “At the end of the day, that’s what I’m really going to miss the most.”

The executive team wasn’t the only thing encouraging Mohatt to become more involved in the organization. Her beloved friend Julia Pratte fueled her flame.

Pratte grew up with autism and was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer.

“Even through her treatment [including chemotherapy], she abided by the saying hakuna-matata, which means no worries,” Mohatt said. “She was truly the most positive, radiant person ever. She walked into a room and she couldn’t leave without everyone having a smile on their face.”

Pratte died of cancer on Nov. 23, 2017. 

“Her legacy lived on and she’s the reason that pushes me to continue to do what I do,” Mohatt said.

Dance Marathon teams get the opportunity to work with a child from the Children’s Miracle Network in Omaha. On Saturday, about 30 children and their families will join the Dance Marathon participants for hours of dancing, sharing stories and watching performances from local artists. Mohatt said her favorite part of the night is the talent show where the children have an opportunity to perform on stage.

During Mohatt’s sophomore year, Willa, a child from the Children’s Miracle Network, danced on stage to the song “This Is Me” from “The Greatest Showman.”

“[That was] already a tear-jerker.” Mohatt said. “Then everybody within the Centennial Room had their phone up in the air and were waving it back and forth. I had a kiddo who I was carrying and he turned to me and goes, ‘This is the coolest thing ever,’ and I absolutely lost it. I’m so not emotional, but seeing again, all these college students take time out of their Saturday night to support these little kiddos who they may or may not have ever met was the absolute coolest thing.”

As of Feb. 1, UNL raised $134,000. Mohatt is unsure of the current number as they are “flying blind” after her regional adviser took away access to the numbers to prevent the group from stressing over them. 

“I am extremely proud of all that we have accomplished this year, and despite what number we end up showing at the end of the night, what we’ve already accomplished and done this year is something that is absolutely remarkable and something we should all be proud of,” Mohatt said.