The Student Union Ballroom – packed yesterday with dancing University of Massachusetts fraternity and sorority members – also served as the dance floor for Joey Coles, a young patient of Baystate Children’s Hospital in Springfield.
“He has dancing in his soul. This is his event,” said Michelle Graci, manager of fundraising events at Baystate Health Foundation. “He comes to all of our events, he hogs the stage and hogs the microphone and smiles and everyone loves him.”
As hip-hop music blared from loudspeakers, Coles led a conga line of sorority girls through the ballroom. He has been a regular attendee of the UMass UDance, a 10-hour dance-a-thon in its sixth year at the University. The fundraiser – sponsored by the Student Government Association, the Office of Fraternities and Sororities and ReadyU – raises money for the hospital through the Children’s Miracle Network.
Also in attendance was Austin Taylor, a Cummington native and sophomore at Wahconah Regional High School. Joining Austin for his first trip to the campus were his parents, Bob and Michelle, and his brother, Cameron.
Michelle Taylor said that both of her sons were born at Baystate and that Austin attends a muscular dystrophy clinic at the medical center. Through the clinic and other trips to Baystate, he became associated with the Children’s Miracle Network. Bob Taylor added that the family took part in a radio telethon with the network last year.
“I was really impressed there were so many fraternities and sororities that were actually raising money for them and participating,” Bob Taylor said.
For event organizers and steering committee co-chairs Rachel Northup and Hailey Wallace, the greatest aspect of the UDance event was getting to meet and dance with child patients. Northup noted that there were about 15 in attendance at yesterday’s dance-a-thon and they took part in a medal and red-carpet ceremony during the event.
“UDance is really about the kids and I love that I got to interact with them,” said Wallace. “I’ve known Joey for three years now; we’ve formed a relationship with these people and their families.”
Both Graci and her fellow manager of fundraising events, Jenna Gleason, said they were pleased with the students’ organization of UDance.
“It is an event that the students own, it’s incredible,” said Graci. “We’re just amazed and awed when we meet with them and they have these great ideas. The enthusiasm and the love that’s pouring out of them for the kids is so inspiring.”
Adele Jean, a member of the Zeta Phi Beta sorority, said she was also pleased with the event’s success.
“All of our organizations are founded on getting together to do service and philanthropy. I like how everyone is coming together,” she said. “We always talk about how our four councils need to have more unity, and I think this is a really good event starting towards that.”
Taking a break from the dancing was Alex Ledoux, a brother of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity.
“We’re here to support a good cause, to help raise money and awareness. I think it’s going well, there’s a lot of people here,” he said. “I danced for a little bit, I’m taking a break but I’ll be back out there I’m sure.”
According to the UDance fundraiser website, the event raised nearly $23,000 last year. Organizers for this year’s UDance set the goal at $25,000. Prior to the event, the fundraiser’s page on the Children Miracle Network’s website indicated that almost $12,000 had been raised. The page had not been updated last night and – according to information on the page – donations can still be made through the 2011 calendar year.
Northup said that that both she and Wallace have been involved with the event for the past three years. Northup was interested in the event even before her first day as a UMass student.
“I’m from Pennsylvania and [charity dance marathon] THON is huge at Penn State and my brother was really passionate about it,” said Northup. “So when I came to UMass it was something that I really looked forward to doing.”
While the primary participants in the event are members of Greek life, Wallace said one of the goals of this year’s UDance was to involve more of the campus community. Dance groups and other registered student organizations were invited to take part in the day’s activities, she said.
Chris Shores can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.