DM grooves way to new fund-raising high

Evan Hill

A member of Dance Marathon’s Finance Committee attaches the final number of the total donation amount to a sign hanging from the wall, as weary volunteers and dancers wait in anticipation.

It’s 12:45 a.m., and the final minutes of DM 2005 are approaching. Suddenly the crowd of hundreds, packed into the Louis Room of the Norris University Center from March 4-6, erupts into a deafening cheer.

In an unprecedented display of dancer fundraising and DM committee dedication, this year’s DM raised $619,346 in total donations, the highest amount in the 31-year history of the event at Northwestern.

This year’s total is a jump of over $160,000 from last year, when DM raised $457,483. The total donation amount includes the value of product, food and prize donations from sponsors, in addition to the money given to charities.

Following the announcement of the total, DM officials presented oversized checks to the Evanston Community Foundation, which has been a DM beneficiary for eight years, and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, this year’s primary charity.

This year ECF received a donation of about $30,325, an increase from last year’s total of $25,945.

“This was the best year ever,” said Sara Schastok, the executive director of ECF. “Having this infusion of money allows us to do more for the community while we work hard to build up our assets.”

After announcing the donation to ECF, DM officials presented representatives from JDRF with a grant for about $374,004, a significant rise from last year’s total of $319,997. In 2004 DM’s primary charity was Have Dreams, an organization for autistic children.

“With this money we’re one step closer to finding a cure,” said Rob Buckley, JDRF’s liaison to DM. “Thank you is not enough.”

Getting it started

The 30-hour marathon began when a swarm of dancers poured into the Louis Room, receiving high fives from committee members while “Let’s Get It Started” by the Black Eyed Peas blasted from two huge banks of loudspeakers.

“It’s kind of like a sorority or frat formal times 500 and without the alcohol,” said Meryl Alper, a Communication senior. “It’s like my bat mitzvah, but it was everyone else’s, too.”

Participants started out in high spirits, dancing to Top 40 tunes during the first block, entitled “Delta Mu Dance Party.”DM was broken into 10 themed three-hour blocks of time, and dancers were encouraged to coordinate their outfits for each one.

Although many dancers felt exhausted and struggled to stand on aching feet after dancing for several blocks, they were kept awake and encouraged by 10-minute breaks every three hours, the energetic work of DM’s two emcees and testimonials from those with diabetes.

“When we signed up for DM we didn’t work with kids or anything,” said Weinberg sophomore Tiffanie Wong, after hearing diabetic Max Voss speak on stage. “Having him come out really made us connect more with the charity and the kids we’re going to benefit.”

‘A constant disease’

While excited dancers grooved on throughout the night, Max Voss and his mother Jennifer sat in an adjacent room getting ready to go on stage. Max, a 7-year-old second-grader with Type 1 diabetes, was one of many speakers who gave testimonials about what it is like to suffer from the disease, helping dancers connect with those who benefit from their fundraising. Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes, occurs when a person’s body does not produce insulin.

Max’s mother Jennifer, who didn’t speak on stage, echoed the sentiments of parents with diabetic children, describing diabetes as “a constant battle to maintain his sugar levels.”

“I’ll wake up at two in the morning, and I’ll run into his room and his blood sugar will be really low,” she said. “It’s a constant disease. It never turns off.”

Lynn Jacobson, whose daughter Samantha, 6, also has Type I diabetes, said the “toughest challenge” is that diabetic children don’t understand all the extra precautions diabetes requires and want to behave like their peers who don’t have the disease.

“Since diabetes she hasn’t had one totally peaceful night,” Jacobson said.

Both Jennifer Voss and Lynn Jacobson said they were confident a cure for diabetes lies in the near future and funding like the grant provided by DM is not only helpful but crucial.

“Words can’t explain the feeling that this money could lead to a cure,” Voss said. “I believe they will find a cure in his lifetime.”

Finding a cure

Now that DM has awarded its grant, the science, technology and funding necessary to make advances in treating diabetes will be in one man’s hands.

Dixon Kaufman, a faculty member at the Feinberg School of Medicine and a transplant surgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, will receive the money from JDRF to pursue research into treatments that could significantly alleviate the complications associated with diabetes and possibly even cure the disease completely.

Type 1 diabetes destroys insulin-producing islet cells that live in the pancreas. About 300 diabetics have been “cured” by receiving healthy islet cells transplanted from deceased donors, said Jim Tyree, a board member of JDRF’s Illinois chapter. But even after a transplant the patient must take large amounts of toxic immuno-suppressant drugs which protect the islet cells but do other kinds of damage to the body.

“Our research efforts are to improve the efficiency of islet transplant through investigations using biomaterials and new diagnostic imaging technology,” said Kaufman, who is working on nanotechnology that could deliver and protect islet cells, eliminating the need for drugs.

Kaufman, who called DM “fantastic,” said the money raised would help move his research efforts forward.

Stem cell controversy

DM briefly was involved in controversy this year when an article in The Daily revealed that officials from the fundraiser would not allow any donated money to be used for stem cell research.

Many scientists believe that stem cells — embryonic cells which can be used to grow new human tissues and organs — are critical for the treatment of diseases like Alzheimer’s, Lou Gehrig’s and diabetes.

“In the end they’re still raising money to cure diabetes without having to be caught up in the politics,” said Buckley, JDRF’s liaison to DM.

Lynn Jacobson said she isn’t bothered by DM’s decision, even though she personally supports efforts to create or clone pancreases using stem cells to treat her daughter’s diabetes.

“It makes me happy that they are just supportive of JDRF’s cause, which is finding a cure,” Jacobson said.

Bringing it back to ‘da keedz’

As DM entered its final block, the exhausted emcees — Medill freshman Todd Johnson and Communication freshman Adam Welton — battled their hoarse voices to keep the crowd energized. The duo motivated dancers with their motto: “We luh da keedz.”

“There’s always rough spots where people ask, ‘Why am I doing this?’ But there were points when the charity was able to bring it back to them,” said Danniele Meglen, Louis Room Production co-chairwoman.

At 11:15 p.m. the two executive co-chairwomen recognized DM’s top fundraisers with trophies and prizes. This year the top three independent fundraising pairs each raised more money than last year’s first place team.

Beth Gianfrancisco, an Education senior who raised $10,030 with her partner to snag first place, began raising money for this year’s DM the day after last year’s ended.

“I did everything from drive people to the airport to asking family for donations instead of presents for Christmas,” said Gianfrancisco, whose uncle has diabetes.

Finally at 12:45 a.m. Sunday, with everyone gathered on stage, DM officials presented the checks to their beneficiaries, and the New Radicals’ “You Only Get What You Give” got the dancers moving one last time.

Elaine Kanak and Melissa Borschnack, DM’s two executive co-chairwomen, attributed the highest total
in history to new fundraising goals for DM committees, fiscal responsibility and “unbelievable” dancer donations.

“Committees like food, which never raised a cent (before), raised a couple thousand, which may not sound like much, but that sort of thing repeated makes a difference,” said Kanak, a Weinberg senior. “The whole board tried to be as frugal as possible.”

Neither Kanak or Borschnack knew the total before it was revealed at the end of DM.

“We’re still in shock that it’s that much,” said Borschnack, an Education senior.

Stewart, president of JDRF’s Illinois chapter, said this year’s DM was the most fun she’s had since she became president.

“It’s the best third-party fundraiser I’ve seen in the six years I’ve been with JDRF,” said Stewart, whose diabetic daughter is a freshman in college. “Every JDRF chapter would love a DM. This is a charity’s dream come true.”

Reach Evan Hill at [email protected]


By the numbers

  • DM raised $619,346 in total donations, the highest amount in the 31-year history of the event.
  • ECF received a donation of about $30,325.
  • JDRF received a check for about $374,004.
  • 500 students registered to dance in DM.

Top Fundraisers


  • First Place: Beth Gianfrancisco and Dave Sopchik: $10,030
  • Second Place: Serena Fishman and Nadia Rawls: $4,697.55
  • Third Place: Eric Cannon and Bryn Gauer: $3,875

Committee members:

  • First Place: Jenny Markee: $1,228.97
  • Second Place: Alex Pancoe: $1,005
  • Third Place: Lisa Juarez: $950


  • First Place: Zeta Beta Tao/Delta Gamma
  • Second Place: Willard Residential College
  • Third Place: Lambda Chi Alpha/Kappa Delta