When University of Kentucky student Nick Joseph, a student from Lexington, was traveling through an airport recently, the British t-shirt he was wearing and a yellow DanceBlue ribbon pinned to his backpack caught the eye of another traveler.
The curious traveler struck up a conversation with Joseph to ask if he was part of DanceBlue in the UK. The other traveler turned out to be a British graduate who also competed in the dance marathon while a student in the UK. This was not the first time Joseph had shared a bond with someone due to his affiliation with one of the Southeastern Conference’s fastest growing philanthropies.
If you live in Kentucky, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of DanceBlue, a year-long fundraising event effort that culminates in a 24-hour walk-out and sleep-less dance marathon. DanceBlue is a fully student-run, on-campus organization which to date has raised $ 18.3 to support the Hematology / Oncology Clinic at the UK Children’s Hospital of Kentucky through the Golden Matrix funds. .
Now entering its 17th year, DanceBlue is one of the UK’s biggest and most anticipated fundraisers, born out of the wish of a selfless little boy, Jarrett Mynear, a pediatric cancer patient in the KCH hematology / oncology clinic. During his short life, Jarrett only wanted to encourage and bring joy to patients like himself, and he did so by handing out toys from “Jarrett’s Joy Cart”.
After her death in 2002, her mother, Jennifer Mynear, followed Jarrett’s last wishes, including making the KCH Hematology / Oncology Clinic a better place for patients and their families. A little boy, a big dream and a cart full of stuffed animals led to a cause that has grown in leaps and bounds, becoming nationally recognized and often inspiring other student organizations across the country to s ‘to engage in similar and worthy causes. It has become the legacy of Jarrett Mynear, uniting people in communities across the Commonwealth and beyond, to help children and their families affected by cancer.
Joseph, the current general chairman of the DanceBlue committee, first got involved in mini-marathons held during his middle and high school years. After hearing Jennifer Mynear speak, he was motivated to get involved and stay involved with DanceBlue once he became a student in the UK. It was a very rewarding experience for Joseph, but during his tenure as chair, he and the rest of the committee faced unprecedented challenges due to the pandemic.
“Organizations cut their budgets during COVID and initially we were a little concerned about raising the funds needed to support the clinic,” Joseph said. “It was inspiring to see so many people in the community come together and continue to give to this impactful cause. “
Jennifer Derk, marketing president of DanceBlue and senior of New Lenox, Ill., Said fundraising events must continue despite the challenges of a pandemic as children diagnosed with cancer won’t stop not. Despite the pandemic and a dance marathon that must have been held virtually, more than a million dollars was raised in 2021.
“Seeing all that we could do during a pandemic and seeing the community come together for this common bond that we share has been one of my biggest rewards. We are a 100% student-run organization made up of amazing people who are powerful and motivated to work for the children of the community, ”said Derk.
The DanceBlue committee is a group of 152 hard-working and seriously committed students. It takes many hours of work to run the office, plan and deliver fundraising events, and plan marketing and merchandising. These efforts require high level skills on the part of management.
Among those student leaders is Olivia O’Hearn of Maysville, the daughter of Mason County Commissioner Chris O’Hearn and retired MPD Deputy Leader Lisa Williams Grisik. Olivia is a member of DanceBlue’s operations committee.
“We work a lot of hours in and out of the office and we have to balance that with school and work, but it’s worth it. Learning to manage time and multitasking is essential, ”said Derk.
Joseph adds that the skills that students develop through DanceBlue will transfer well to future jobs.
“There are 10 chairs and 142 additional committee members who spend a lot of time on DanceBlue. We reach out to businesses to request sponsorships, schedule social media posts and fundraising campaigns, work with vendors and speak in public. These are the kinds of responsibilities you have as a volunteer for this organization. For me, getting involved in DanceBlue has been a wonderful way to grow professionally and meet some really great people that I probably wouldn’t have met otherwise, ”he said.
DanceBlue committee members like Derk and Joseph are passionate about the DanceBlue mission of raising funds to support research, the day-to-day operations of the hematology / oncology clinic and providing resources to help make the lives of families easier with meal vouchers, accommodation and other needs. None of the committee’s goals could be achieved without the enthusiasm, energy and dedication of the hundreds of DanceBlue Marathon participants who have raised funds throughout the year.
Derk says the dance marathon is the celebration of the end of a year of hard work and fundraising efforts. All funds raised throughout the year go towards the final total of money won in the marathon.
Joseph adds that historically KCH patients and their families attend the marathon and DanceBlue participants can interact and play games with the children.
“At the end of the year, when you see hundreds of students and community members gathered and see the total funds raised, the feeling is second to none,” Joseph said. “It is an absolute privilege to have an impact on the community in this way. “
The leaders of the current DanceBlue committee are:
(See attached list of Committee members, position, and hometown.)
If you would like to join DanceBlue to attend fundraising events or join a dance team, go to www.danceblue.org.