Dylan Stolz, a junior pre-med major, has shaved his head, worn a Pokémon costume to class and run several miles for just one cause — the kids. Stolz is the president of State Dance Marathon, Indiana State’s largest student-run philanthropic organization. StateDM is a yearlong fundraising effort with all proceeds benefiting Riley Children’s Hospital, which culminates in an eight-hour dance marathon. Since its inception in 2009, StateDM has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, all while strengthening the campus community.
“This is our technically eighth year, but I would say it only really started about three years ago,” said Breanna Blythe, a junior marketing major and StateDM vice president of communications.
Until recently, StateDM was known as ISU Dance Marathon and was a last-minute affair with little organization or planning. Recently, the group developed a structured committee, and under the advisement of former president Aryn Richey, rebranded itself as StateDM. The organization has grown rapidly, and now has four vice presidents, a 21-member executive board and 120 committee members.
“It’s difficult to keep 120 people engaged, but we did our best,” Stolz said.
In the months leading up to the event, members could be seen on Facebook advertising bake sales and requesting donations in efforts to achieve their personal fundraising goals.
“The majority of our final total came from online donations,” said Emily Virostko, a junior accounting major and StateDM vice president of finance. “That’s not strictly social media. That’s people calling, emailing, texting, doing everything they can to get them to that TeamRaiser link, which is our fundraiser platform.”
Members took fundraising to the extreme — even jumping out of airplanes. Both Virostko and Blythe promised to jump out of a plane if they raised $200 each. Their jump was recorded live by Stolz.
“People seeing that you’re so passionate about it that you’d raise money to jump out of an airplane when none of that money directly goes to you — it just really helps with your donors,” Virostko said.
Of course, online donations were not the only source of funding. Corporate sponsorships provided about $10,000 in addition to amenities such as food and staging. Preparations for the main event began months in advance so that the eight-hour marathon could maintain momentum. For those who don’t like to dance, StateDM granted other options.
“We definitely make sure we have games like corn hole and an obstacle course so that people can stay standing,” Blythe said. “Yes, it’s a dance marathon, but you don’t have to dance the entire time.”
The rallying efforts of StateDM resulted in 538 people attending on Feb. 25 in the Arena. The dancers wore tie-dye T-shirts, rainbow socks and tulle tutus. The Purdue-based musical duo Grey Lamb and the ISU student-run radio station WZIS energized the crowd with upbeat music. Evan Austin, a paralympian swimmer, was also there to give his support. The guests of honor were the Riley children, who joined the dancers for a night of games and laughter.
“Most of the Riley families are no longer going to the hospital,” Stolz said. “They are stories of hope of how they go from having possibly three months to live to running around at the dance marathon being chased by students.”
Even during the marathon, StateDM did not stop pushing for donations. They sold T-shirts, sent texts and posted to social media. The Riley children assisted in another mini-fundraiser by tagging students to put in jail. Once in jail, the student had to pay $5 or get a friend to pay to escape.
While you could throw your friend in jail for $5, the kids got to do it for free.
“The kids loved running around and I got thrown in jail a couple of times,” Blythe said.
As midnight approached, the anticipation was palpable. The last known total of donations was $80,000 — and that was one week ago. One by one, dancers came onto the stage, each holding poster board with a number facing away from the crowd. At midnight, they each flipped their boards, revealing the grand total.
The crowd screamed. Stolz bounced around the room. The dancers embraced each other, tears streaming down their faces. They had demolished their fundraising goal by $30,000.
“What really adds to that moment is that all night you’ve been hearing Riley stories from people who’ve been affected, and so when you see that number that is going towards that cause it’s just so cool,” Stolz said.