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The movement is movement: Dance Marathon gives graduating senior new perspective on service, fulfillment

Students display the grand total raised at the 2016 Dance Marathon for the Children's Miracle Network.For Whitney Coriolan, the movement is about movement.

The graduating Creighton University senior exercise science major has, in the past two years, founded and led Creighton’s Dance Marathon, a fundraiser for the Children’s Miracle Network in which participants are encouraged to keep their bodies in motion for 12 hours to raise both money for Omaha’s Children’s Hospital and awareness of pediatric illness and the children and families it affects.

Under Coriolan’s leadership, the Creighton Dance Marathon raised more than $90,000 and attracted more than 600 volunteers. The impressive effort for the philanthropic enterprise earned Creighton Best New Dance Marathon honors from the Children’s Miracle Network for 2015-2016, and netted Coriolan one of 20 2017 Miracle Network Dance Marathon Distinguished Leadership Awards, selected from thousands of graduating seniors at the 300 colleges and universities where Dance Marathons are held.

“It’s one thing to be recognized as a program, but to be recognized as an individual, I don’t even know how to describe that,” said Coriolan, who hails from Worthington, Minnesota. “I have had such an enriching experience with Dance Marathon at Creighton. It’s one of the most impactful things I’ve done in my collegiate career. It’s made me a leader and shaped me into a servant leader and taught me a lot about humility.”

Dance Marathon, though its central event is a one-day, 12-hour marathon of movement — what Coriolan calls “a one-day celebration of life and one another” — spends the entire year raising funds, seeking volunteers and heightening awareness for Children’s Hospital and the kids and families who seek treatment there.

Coriolan’s Dance Marathon experience began when she was a sophomore studying abroad in Ireland. She received an email asking if she’d like to apply for a mission and service position with the Pan-Hellenic Council.

“I said I’d do it,” Coriolan recalled. “I got the position and I got back to campus and they said, ‘You’re going to start this program: the University Dance Marathon.’ And I’d never even been to one of those before. So the first one I went to was the one I helped organize.”

As co-president of the Creighton Dance Marathon, Coriolan threw herself into the planning and programming of the year-round effort, with a special focus on the culminating event — the 12-hour marathon of movement.

In that first year, the Creighton Dance Marathon set for itself a rather lofty goal of raising $40,000. Most Dance Marathons at schools of Creighton’s size raise about $15,000 to $20,000. But with the gradual donations coming in over the course of the year and a big push that saw $5,000 raised in one day and another $11,000 raised on the day of the Dance Marathon event in November 2015, Creighton blew past its goal for a total of more than $43,000.

“I still don’t know how we did that,” Coriolan said. “But we had some committed people involved and they got other people to take notice. You feel a connection to the movement and there’s a motivation there.”

After helping organize the first Dance Marathon, Coriolan took part in leadership seminars with other Dance Marathon organizers from across the U.S. and Canada. Networking among several thousand planners and volunteers, the students shared ideas about how to create successful events and fundraising opportunities.

“We were able to accomplish a lot, all across the nation,” Coriolan said. “When we won the Best New Dance Marathon Award in 2016, people were coming to find me and asking about Creighton and what we’d done. It was a great opportunity to help build and spread the movement.”

Even more than the money raised, Coriolan said, is that personal attachment to the Dance Marathon, to the participants and the awareness fostered by the event.

Children and families who come to Children’s Hospital for treatments have joined in the movement and come to the actual event for Creighton students to see the very faces their work is helping. In 2015, 12 families participated in Creighton’s event. Fifteen families took part in 2016.

“It’s a chance for the kids to be the stars for the day,” Coriolan said. “They can get away from the hospital and the medicine and just be kids.”

Concluding the Dance Marathon event, the participants form a ring around the families and children present and the executive committee of the event gets a moment to share some words with the people for whom they’ve spent a year fundraising and spreading awareness of pediatric illness.

“Inside the circle, there are handshakes and hugs and it makes everyone feel like we’re a family,” Coriolan said. “The goal of the event is to stay on your feet for 12 hours and the goal of the movement is something similar — to get a sense of the difficulty and challenges that are taking place in the lives of these children and families and how they are persevering.”

Preparing to graduate from Creighton and spend two years in the Peace Corps, Coriolan said the Dance Marathon was an integral component in helping her discern her near-term and long-term plans. The award from the Children’s Miracle Network, she said, was nice, but the ability to be a part of the Dance Marathon was an even more transcendent award, in its own way.

“I’ve always been into service, my whole life,” she said. “But this gave me a clearer insight on how I’d like to serve. We who organized the Dance Marathon saw ourselves as one generation helping the next. These kids are going to be the next doctors and presidents and Creighton students. We felt a huge power of purpose in that. We weren’t so much focused on the money as we were on the people, the families and the kids that came. I think that’s what will continue to be fulfilling in Creighton’s Dance Marathon and I look forward to seeing what comes next.”

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