By Megan Gonzalez
The University of Central Florida (UCF) has hundreds of registered student organizations (RSOs) that any UCF student can be a part of. From fraternities to faith, there is probably already an organization out there that you can join, and if there’s not, you can always start your own. These RSOs are part of what make college life fun. They provide a way for students to make friends with like-minded people, a space where they can do what they love, even if what they love is sword fighting.
For generations, clubs and organizations have served students and given them something to enjoy outside of their course work. Some of these organizations have even given students something to fight for.
Knight-Thon Dance Marathon at UCF and Relay for Life of UCF are two such organizations that UCF students can join to be a part of something greater than themselves. Knight-Thon, which raises money for the local children’s hospital—Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children—is entering their 24th year, and Relay for Life, which raises money for cancer research by supporting the American Cancer Society, is in their 26th. Two organizations that are similar in many ways have been fighting for better health for around a quarter of a century.
Most likely you’ve heard of one or both of these organizations, and if you haven’t then you’ve probably been asked by a peer wielding nothing but a bucket and a can-do attitude asking for donations while you walked through the student union. But what do these philanthropies actually do? What does it mean to be “For The Kids?” I asked representatives from both organizations to find out.
Dance Marathon is a movement that has swept the country, where college students raise money all year for their local Children’s Miracle Network hospital and finish with a big event at the end of their fundraising year to celebrate all the money—or “miracles”—made. Having originated at Indiana University in 1991, it has since spread to over 400 programs, with UCF’s program being among the first to join the movement of “this generation fighting for the next.”
2020 Executive Director of Knight-Thon, senior Zaineb Saied (Z), says that Knight-Thon is different from other charities because, “They [the students] are obviously not going through what the kids [hospital patients] are going through, so it really pushes those boundaries and comfort levels.” But she also adds that Knight-Thon can be a reprieve from the pressures of college life. She admits, “school is stressful, and it’s important to see how we can have a good impact and it can be something fun at a fun event that we enjoy doing.”
Knight-Thon’s main event is a 20-hour long affair where participants vow not to sit for the duration of the event, in solidarity with the kids in local hospitals whose fight is ongoing. At the event, participants can look forward to a hypnotist, silent disco, and of course, appearances by miracle families (the families of the children treated at APH) where they tell their story of treatment at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. Some other fun events that Knight-Thon puts on during the year in preparation for their big event are things like FTKaraoke, Knight’s Karnival, and awareness days and hospital tours, where participants and other students can learn about the hospital and some of the things that the money they fundraise helps pay for.
Z decided to join Knight-Thon her freshman year of college, having been previously familiar with the charity because her local Orange County high school, West Orange, held their “Warriorthon” every year. So when she started at UCF and heard about impact team positions for Knight-Thon, she signed up. “When I first started I knew what it was, but I didn’t know the extent of how important it was.” In that position, Z learned more about the cause that
before she had only ever heard of, she worked with local high schools to help them put on their dance marathons—including her alma mater—and she even got to meet some of UCF’s miracle kids who she grew very close to. Since then, Z says that, “Knight-Thon has become a huge part of normal for me.” When asked how someone on campus can get involved Z says, “being a dancer [participant] is a great way to start just to see if Knight-Thon is something they can get behind. For someone who loves children’s health, event planning, or finance—joining an impact team is a really great place to start. I think both routes are really great.” If you’re interested in joining the movement, follow Knight-Thon on Instagram @knightthonucf or make a donor drive account and start fundraising today!
Knight-Thon Reveal Video
Relay for Life
Relay for Life is another large philanthropy on-campus that UCF students may have heard of, possibly as an event their own high school held, but one that maybe they weren’t overly familiar with. Relay for Life of UCF raises money for cancer research, education, advocacy, and patient services, while also supporting those who have been affected by cancer. Student Director of Relay for Life of UCF Haley Hardin and Survivor Chair Chris Alegria, say that “unfortunately, cancer is affecting more people every single day, and it can be quite an isolating experience. Our hope is that when people see the work our organization does, they can feel a sense of community and hope for the future despite whatever circumstances they might be going through.”
Relay for Life knows how challenging it can be to talk about cancer, so instead the team at UCF works on providing unique ways for students and the community to get involved and raise money. “In the past, we [Relay for Life] have held a wing eating competition, a puppy kissing booth, flower sales, a pinball tournament, a bowling night, a haunted house, partial proceeds, and tons of raffles!” Also adding that they hold awareness events that take the form of hospital tours, card making for patients around the holidays, and even making earrings and jewelry for patients.
Both Haley and Chris have been affected personally by cancer, ultimately guiding them towards joining UCF’s team and executive board for Relay. Chris, as survivor chair, “[has] the amazing gift of being a grade four brain cancer survivor for two years! After fighting cancer myself and becoming a survivor, I realized that I solely want to fundraise for my community to provide for more options for someone going through this immense battle against cancer.” Whereas Haley made the decision to join after her close friend was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 23. “It was such a struggle to watch someone I loved go through something so hopeless, so being a part of Relay For Life was a great way for me to feel like I was helping in some way. I eventually joined the executive board, and I am so glad I did because when my friend passed away at 26 they were such a comfort and support group for me during that time.”
It’s clear that cancer is a presence in the lives of many, but it’s the goal of Relay for Life of UCF that it doesn’t always have to be. If it affects you in some way, or you just want to help others affected by it, Chris and Haley say you can register for their event by going to www.relayforlife.org/ucffl and begin fundraising immediately, or follow them on Instagram @ucfrfl to stay updated on the next wing eating contest or puppy kissing booth.
It’s clear that these two organizations have many similarities, from the events they hold to their passion for their cause. But they are also similar in one final way. For the first time, neither organization got to celebrate in-person the hard work they did all year.
This spring semester, UCF, and the world have been rocked by a new virus called COVID-19, more commonly known as coronavirus. UCF, along with universities across the nation, moved their classes to online instruction, and because the virus is more easily spread in crowds, all campus events were suspended. This suspension included Knight-Thon and Relay for Life, and both organizations moved their in-person events to an online virtual event.
For the first time, the students that worked hard all year to fundraise and make a difference did not celebrate their year at their main events this spring. It’s clear from speaking with these incredible students that they don’t volunteer their time and dedicate themselves to their cause because of recognition or fun events. They do it because they love it, and because they want to make this world just a little bit better.
However the cancellation of these events was a heartbreaking, albeit necessary, thing to do. How can we expect cancer survivors and kids with immunocompromised systems to come into an arena with hundreds to thousands of participants? How can we let thousands of UCF students in an environment that potentially puts their health at risk? The bottom line is that we can’t. But the decision to cancel is still heartbreaking to all of the students who look forward to these events all year long, and to the community who comes to support and take part in these events.
So since their main celebrations did not happen the way they planned it this year, I want to take this time to recognize the hard work done by the incredible students in both organizations. Thank you for all the time and effort you’ve put into your fight towards better health. Thank you for the year-long fundraising—which isn’t easy as anyone who has asked their mom for money more than once would know. Thank you for the planning and the dedication which would have resulted in a beautiful event. Thank you to the seniors who have spent much of their college years, fighting for their cause.
And finally, thank you for continuing to fight and fundraise despite knowing the show will not go on. The doors to Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children never close, even when the rest of the world does. The amount of people who are diagnosed with cancer doesn’t decrease, just because there is a different health crisis ongoing.
Relay for Life Recap Video
If you’d like to donate to the organizations and help them in their fight, you can follow the links provided below.