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JHS Graduate Helps Kids With Terp Thon

Student-run philanthropy organization at the University of Maryland raises money for Children’s National Medical Center

Jordana Zwerling, a 2009 graduate of Jericho High School, is a very busy college senior at the University of Maryland. In addition to double-majoring in psychology and biology (pre-med), she also spends a lot of time volunteering for a 100 percent student-run philanthropy organization called Terp Thon, which raises money for Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. When her friends ask her how she can take time out from her already-packed schedule to serve as hospital relations chair for the organization, Zwerling has a concise answer: FTK, or “for the kids.”

Zwerling is no stranger to philanthropy; at Jericho High School, she was a member of Jr. Scope, a group that raises money for disadvantaged children on Long Island. Now, in her capacity as hospital relations chair, she works with “miracle children”—children who have been treated successfully at the medical center. Many of the children are cancer survivors, but there are also children with genetic disorders and other critical health issues.

The main focus of Terp Thon is organizing events to raise money for the hospital, such as a successful “Color Run” this September, when over 900 students came out for the event, raising over $4,000. However it’s not just about raising money; it’s about the children’s quality of life, too. Zwerling recently put together a Halloween party for the children currently receiving treatment at the hospital as well as miracle children, which was a great success. Everyone came in costume, and partied in style at a room donated by the campus Marriot.

“It’s just so nice, they actually get to be kids for a day,” said Zwerling of the party. “It’s not a fundraising event, it’s totally just like, let the kids have fun and be kids.”

However, the biggest event the organization puts on is a 12-hour dance marathon, dedicated to fundraising. Since Terp Thon’s establishment in 2010, it has raised over $475,000 for the medical care of local families, and the majority of that money was raised at annual dance marathons.

Despite what one may assume, you don’t have to be a good dancer to take part in a dance marathon; you don’t even have to dance at all. Dance marathons require students to pledge to stand for a given length of time; the Terp Thon Dance Marathon is 12 hours, the length of a standard nurses’ shift. National rules for the marathons dictate that participants can’t go to sleep for the duration of the event, cannot sit down, and can’t have caffeine.

“Maryland at one point had one, a very long time ago, and then it kind of burnt out,” said Zwerling of the marathon. However, dance marathons have exploded in popularity, to the point where there are now over 300 marathons held at college campuses throughout the country. “So it’s become a very big thing in the last decade, so I think that’s why we chose that,” she said.

Of course, just standing around for 12 hours, dancing optional, isn’t easy, so entertainment is provided: there are games, appearances from Maryland’s Division I athletes, performances from dance and comedy teams, and speeches. Last year, the university’s football coach came and gave a motivational speech just as the crowds were getting tired.

“We go from noon to midnight, so you can tell, by the time we get to 10 p.m., people are a little agitated, so we try to keep the motivation going,” said Zwerling. She went on to say that she’s trying to book a celebrity or two for the March 2013 marathon, but it can be difficult to get on celebrities’ radar with a relatively small, new event.

Still, despite being new the event has been quite successful. In addition to the funds raised, the Terp Thon Dance Marathon has received national awards including Best New Dance Marathon 2010 and the Miracle Maker Award in 2011. Now that the event is going into it’s fourth year, Zwerling hopes to raise more money for Children’s National Medical Center, a hospital that will not turn any child away, regardless of the family’s ability to pay.

“We call it a party with a purpose...for these kids, celebrating their lives and celebrating what they’ve overcome in their short 10 years of life,” said Zwerling of the party. Some of the miracle children even attend the event, to share their stories.

For Zwerling, volunteering for Terp Thon hasn’t changed her goals in life; she’s wanted to help people by becoming a doctor someday for a long time (although she confesses that her volunteer work helps put those long nights of studying organic chemistry in perspective). However, she notes that she’s never worked with so many dedicated people before Terp Thon, and what makes it especially satisfying is that it’s entirely student-run; it’s college students doing good, on their own.

The next dance marathon will be held on Mar. 9, 2013. For more information about Terp Thon, visit www.terpthon.org. In addition, those who are interested in donating to the organization’s fundraising efforts, or sponsoring the event, may contact Zwerling directly at hospitalrelations @terpthon.org.