Special interest organizations have been an integral part of THON’s fundraising efforts for years. Their dedication to the cause is undeniable; special interest organizations make a palpable difference in THON’s annual total, and have become engrained in the culture of the largest student-run philanthropy in the world. But these organizations didn’t all form overnight — it took one brave pioneer to begin a movement that changed the landscape of THON forever.
Springfield founder Matt Thomas was that pioneer who helped THON’s original special interest organization mature into the 150+ member mainstay that it is today. We sat down with current president Ryan Williams to learn more about Springfield’s history and how it got to where it is today.
Like most prominent Penn State organizations, Springfield — whose namesake is actually derived from the hometown featured in The Simpsons — and its roots can be traced to Simmons Hall in South Halls. It was in that dormitory back in 2001 where Thomas devised a way he and his friends could become more involved with THON — little did he know what great heights such a simple idea could soar to.
Thomas wanted to stray from the Greek ideology when it came to fundraising; instead of an organization that wore a variety of hats, he wanted something strictly dedicated to THON. “They were all involved in THON through the Honors College, but they all sort of wanted to do more for THON,” Williams said. “They wanted to get more involved but didn’t necessarily want to do all the internal THON stuff — like committees, that sort of thing.” Springfield’s “Founding Fathers” were nothing more than a passionate group of individuals who simply wanted to cater to a cause greater than themselves.
Though Springfield’s maiden fundraising total pales in comparison to the organization’s current figures, Thomas and Co. ended their first-ever season with $6,500 — a number that would swell exponentially with each passing THON. Springfield’s growth as an organization went hand in hand with its philanthropic success; what started as a novel idea blossomed into an institution raising six figures annually for pediatric cancer research.
Today, Springfield — located in section 120 in the BJC — features a number of events that help the group accomplish its goal and further THON’s cause. “We have some really cool alternative fundraisers that we do,” Williams said. “We usually rent out the Life Sciences bridge and have a casino night. It’s usually a really cool event to get new members interested in our organization and show them some of the alternative fundraising opportunities that we have.” Springfield also teams up with Ten Thousand Villages Fair Trade Gifts and Crafts from Mechanicsburg, Pa, — dubbed the Ten Thousand Villages sale — to sell items and raise funds. It’s an event that generates roughly $4,000-5,000 for the organization’s total. From time to time, Springfield will team up with fellow special interest organizations like Atlas for joint events — something that helps establish a sense of camaraderie between the groups.
Like all THON organizations, Springfield has its fair share of traditions that’ve been passed down from previous generations. A favorite of the group is one of the simplest traditions of all: a stuffed monkey named MoJo. “Our founder passed a stuffed monkey along to his predecessor once he was done with his tenure,” Williams said. “It’s sort of divulged from that into a weekly tradition.” Members also shave their heads on the Thursday before THON — another annual tradition more and more members have gotten into. “Traditionally it’s just the guys, but we’ve had a few girls do it too which is really cool,” Williams said. “It’s always really nice to see people care that little about their hair.”
Springfield is currently associated with four THON families: the Colons, the Silbaughs, the Robertsons, and the Schopfs. Williams says his organization is heavily involved with each family and loves having members spending as much time with them as possible — especially during THON weekend.
One might assume Thomas had all of this in mind when he started Springfield, but Williams says that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Thomas merely wanted to serve a greater cause, but he couldn’t be happier with how large the organization’s grown.
At the end of the day, it’s about the kids. That’s exactly why Springfield exists, and the precedent they set helped THON’s special interest organization scene become what it is today.