Grace Heggem (left) and Peyton Bash pose for a portrait inside Cook Pavilion on Tuesday, March 16, 2021, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Editor's note: This article was modified on March 19, 8:35 p.m. to correct the location of HuskerThon.

It’s almost time for the highly-anticipated, rhythmic event where philanthropy meets fun. This weekend, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Dance Marathon will be holding its biggest fundraiser of the year, HuskerThon. Despite the many challenges of the past year, the event is still able to happen with a few COVID-friendly adjustments. 

As one of the largest registered student organizations on campus, UNDM works hard every year to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospital in Omaha. Throughout the year, UNDM organizers recruit the efforts of countless other student organizations on campus to raise money for the kids. 

In a normal year, the event is a 13.1 hour “Dance Marathon” where students come together with the families from the Children’s Hospital to celebrate the fundraising accomplishments from throughout the year. According to a post on their Instagram, UNDM raised over $200,000 last year to fund two fetal care center nesting rooms and a NICU staff lounge. 

“Dance Marathon is the best day ever,” said Grace Heggem, programming director of UNDM. “It’s like Christmas for the kids, especially when they get to come to the event, but honestly, it’s like Christmas for us too.”

According to Peyton Bash, executive director of UNDM, this year's Dance Marathon is fundraising to build five CARES units, as well as one radiology room and one ultrasound room at the Children’s Hospital.

“[CARES units] are rooms that patients stay in pre-op, during-op and post-op,” Bash said. “It’s where that family is gonna get some comfort. They’re gonna get that initial consultation before the surgery, and while the child is coming out of anesthesia they’ll be in that room too.”

Thanks to its close collaboration with university officials, UNDM will still be hosting HuskerThon this year despite the impacts of COVID-19. The event will be on March 20, from 2 p.m. to 11:55 p.m. in the Cook Pavilion. This year, the event is by invitation only. In order to be invited to the event, participants had to raise at least $100 and be within the top 600 fundraisers. Additionally, those invited to the event are required to RSVP to secure their entrance to the event.

Those attending the event will be split up into two groups. One group will be in person, while the other will be attending a virtual meeting room with the miracle families from the Children’s Hospital. Halfway through the event, the groups will switch. 

“We’ve added a virtual family room component,” Heggem said. “It’s basically a zoom call that the families will be on for the entirety of the event. We wanted to maximize the amount of people that could come under our capacity.”

To limit the possibility of participants spreading COVID-19, Bash recommends those attending the event get tested one or two days prior to the event. All participants' Safer Community apps will be checked upon entrance, so it is important that attendees are up to date with their testing. 

Despite all the changes to the event this year, Heggem is optimistic that participants will be able to get the same experience that they have in years past. 

“I hope people get out of Dance Marathon what they get out of it every year,” Heggem said. “It’s important to look outside of your college bubble a little bit. Step into the shoes of someone who has had so many challenges at such a young age, and they still manage to be some of the happiest kids I’ve ever seen. That always ends up being the most eye-opening experience for people.”