Social distance met social media at a virtual mass of movement that raised $2.5 million for UF Health Children’s Hospital
A coronavirus lockdown couldn’t stop Gators from dancing the night away to raise $2.5 million for sick children.
Even if they did have to practice social distancing to do it.
The annual student-run Dance Marathon — a months-long series of activities to raise money for UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital, culminating in a 26.2‑hour sockhop — didn’t miss a beat despite concerns over COVID-19 that forced organizers to move the dance from campus’ Stephen C. O’Connell Center to a virtual ballroom.
On the last weekend in March and with the marathon’s closing songs blaring from computer speakers across the Gator Nation, UF’s 2020 events ended with $2,526,418.24 raised to help children treated at the university. Other events ranged from January’s “Miracle Market” flea market in downtown Gainesville to the “Miracles in Color 5K” run in February. Dance Marathon at the University of Florida is part of a national movement through Children’s Miracle Network hospitals.
There were, however, a few necessary changes to this year’s marathon.
During times like this, our hospital needs us more than ever.
— Shayna Goldrich, Dance Marathon’s finance manager and a senior business major —
Choice of dance partners, for starters — instead of the usual mass of movement on the basketball court floor, students united on social media, but danced solo or with family members in quarantine to a backdrop of living rooms, kitchens and porches. There were no in-person pep talks or testimonials or choreographed line dances. Videos took their place: child patients shared stories and expressed thanks, UF President Kent Fuchs offered encouragement, online challenges were made for things like standing for an hour or learning new dance steps.
Because of the coronavirus, the 26th annual Dance Marathon will be among the most memorable ever, student leaders predict.
“The success of this event says a lot about the entire Gator community,” says senior Shayna Goldrich, Dance Marathon’s finance manager and a business major. “We are incredibly grateful to have such a vast group of supporters, from students and administrators to alumni and hospital staff. Gators truly want to help the community around them and continue to make a lasting impact.”
This year’s marathon is also a reflection of Gators’ resilience. The in-person event was canceled March 12. A week later, the virtual version was announced. And just over a week after that, Dance Marathon’s main event took place, from noon on Saturday, March 28, to 2:12 p.m. on Sunday, March 29 — the entire thing planned in 16 days.
“We knew having an event despite what is going on in the world was still so important,” Goldrich explains. “During times like this, our hospital needs us more than ever. They need the funds we raised to provide the best care.”
As Gators so often do, students and donors rallied.
- Facebook posts topped 100,000 and Instagram impressions 500,000.
- 5,363 donations were made in 26.2 hours.
- More than 1,100 online merchandise orders were placed through Dance Marathon’s virtual store and 100 bids made during its silent auction.
- Dance Marathon alumni across the country tuned in for live streams, held virtual happy hours and took part in a social media “post train” to share pictures nationwide — an ongoing trend in Dance Marathon’s network of hospitals and universities.
“We had overwhelming engagement throughout the entire 26.2 hours,” Goldrich says, adding that because the event was virtual, many participants were able to share it with people who had never been a part of it before, including parents, grandparents and siblings.
“Overall, at a time when everyone feels so apart, we were able to bring so many people together,” she says. “We united for one cause — to fight against childhood illness — and proved that we are always For the Kids.”