Give & Take: Standing for a Million Dollar Brand

Mara Bernstein  Follow

I attended my first Terp Thon my Freshman year of college. I stood in the crowd and listened to a 12-year-old boy named Jaiwen talk on stage about his battle with Osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer. He discussed going through chemotherapy and having part of his femur amputated and replaced with a titanium prosthesis, which required him to learn how to walk again. Hearing his story, and realizing no one his age should ever have to go through this, sparked the inspiration I’ve had to continue my involvement in this organization over the past six years.

Terp Thon is the University of Maryland’s Dance Marathon, a year-long fundraising effort for Children’s National Health Systems, the Children’s Miracle Network Hospital in Washington D.C.

The year culminates in a 12-hour Dance Marathon, where thousands of college students pledge to stand on their feet for the length of a nurse’s shift at the hospital. These 12 hours are a celebration of the year’s fundraising, where you get to meet Miracle Kids like Jaiwen, hear their stories and make them feel like the rock stars that they are.

I’ve held several different roles in the organization including serving on the executive board as a senior, and currently, I serve as one of the Vice Presidents on the Terp Thon Alumni Network.

As I look back on my experiences with Terp Thon, I realize that many of the skills I’ve learned through the organization have related to my job as a PR professional. As a fairly new organization when I joined as a Freshman, Terp Thon was still trying to make a name for themselves.

This led our executive board to create PR strategies in order to build the brand and gain recognition on campus. This included everything from revamping the website, to creating messaging for what we wanted to include on social media and share with traditional media publications on campus. In addition to planning, this was also our first taste of media relations. We “media trained” certain members of our board to make sure the messages were clear and coordinated interviews with reporters from Maryland’s daily student newspaper, The Diamondback. This resulted in coverage in the newspaper the Monday after the event, detailing the amount of money raised and featured quotes from dancers and members of our board. This coverage was a huge win for us as the paper could be found in almost every building on campus.

We also developed our writing skills in order to fundraise for the event. We drafted social media posts, emails and handwritten letters that we shared with our friends and family. These posts and letters were personal, generally including an anecdote about a Miracle Kid that particularly resonated with each individual, but also included our core Terp Thon messaging.

Through these posts, emails and letters, I have personally fundraised approximately $13,000 in six years, and this year, Terp Thon became the youngest Dance Marathon to raise more than $1,000,000 in just its eighth year.

While raising one million dollars was a huge milestone for the organization, the most exciting moment of the day for me comes back to hearing Jaiwen speak on stage again, but this time at age 18. He shared the story I’ve heard every year since freshman year, but now, because of Children’s National, Jaiwen was able to announce to a crowd of about 2,000 people that next year, he will also be a Terp at the University of Maryland.

Jaiwen, and all of the Miracle Kids I’ve had the honor of meeting, are the reason I continue to fundraise for Terp Thon. Once a year, I stand for 12 hours for those who can’t, and to ensure that all children and their families are able to receive the care and treatment that they need. 

CATEGORIES: Give & Take
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