10 Questions with THON Overall Elaine Tanella

The first day of classes is often intense. Resuming your existence amongst over 40,000 kids is a wild transition. Somewhere in the thick mob of students swarming the sidewalks, milling about the bookstores, and inefficiently maneuvering about the involvement fair, you think back to your most recent year here at Penn State. Unless you’re a freshman. Then you just have no idea what’s going on. If you’re part of the returning crowd, however, you contemplate your upcoming commitments, like schoolwork and extracurricular organizations.

One thing that has surely crossed all minds is THON. While we are only beginning to wonder about  the upcoming THON year, Overall Elaine Tanella, and a good number of other THON overalls and captains have been hard at work all summer. To pull off the spectacle that is THON, you need an entire year. In the hopes of satisfying your FTK curiosity, I talked with Elaine to see what they have been up to during our absence from Happy Valley and to get to know the person who is heading up this mission.


Onward State: What made you want to apply for the position of THON Overall?

Elaine Tanella: Many of our volunteers say that each year you leave THON Weekend, and you want to do more next year. This is why I wanted to apply to be the Overall Chair for 2012. I want to do more for the kids, for the families, for the students, and for The Four Diamonds Fund. I want to make THON better for them. A quote by Mahatma Gandhi really helped serve as an inspiration during the application process, “the future depends on what we do in the present.” It’s a very simple quote, but it helped focus the idea of creating a well-built foundation for THON today, so that THON can have strong future and continue to provide such an amazing experience to the families.

OS: What kind of responsibilities have you had for the position so far during the summer? Feeling the pressure already?

ET: During the summer I’ve been working with the Overall Committee, and some of the already-selected THON Captains to work towards accomplishing some of the goals we laid out. We keep in contact through frequent conference calls and retreats. I wouldn’t say I’m feeling the pressure, but I would say I’m feeling the excitement! It’s hard to believe that the THON family grows a ton so soon with Captains and Committee Member applications rolling in, and organizations recruiting members.

OS: Having been apart of this past year’s THON, what changes are you and the rest of the overalls looking to make to this year’s THON in order to improve it /make it run more smoothly?

ET: This year we’re looking to educate our volunteers and to help them understand that THON is making a difference in the life of families today, and families of the future. We’re trying to educate our volunteer base so they understand cancer, and the innovative research going on at Hershey that is going to help improve treatments and cure rates.

We’re also hoping to continue to make THON more student-run, provide more opportunities for student involvement, and improve the student’s experience with THON, overall.

This year for the events themselves, we’re looking to create the best possible experience for the families, spectators, and dancers, for THON Weekend. We want to make sure all people are having a great time in a safe environment.


OS: THON is obviously huge amongst Penn State students and alumni. How do you plan to spread the word of THON beyond our community?

ET: Penn State is very lucky in that our alumni network is huge. Our alumni are everywhere, different companies, different countries. They are one of our keys to spreading THON’s message beyond Pennsylvania.

OS: When drafting the theme/logo for this year’s THON, what thought goes into making that decision?

ET: When coming up with this year’s theme, THON, the kids, the families, and The Fund are in our mind decision of piecing together the words that will come to represent THON 2012. There are so many words that come to express feelings and emotions of THON, so finding the perfect fit for the year is a fun and long process.

OS: $9.56 million is just an unbelievable amount of money. Definitely more than I will ever touch in my life. What strategies are you and the rest of the Overalls looking to implement in order to raise even more money, or is that not even a concern?

ET: Each year, the Overall Committee works as hard as we can to provide the best possible experience for the families, and to provide the tools for everyone to fundraise to their potential. The focus is always the families. They are the most important part of THON, and what makes THON so incredibly special. They are the motivational force for everyone to go the distance each year.

OS: How do you plan to balance being the THON Overall, your academics, and the Penn State social life throughout this next year?

ET: Every student leader faces this issue, and to be truthful it can be difficult to handle at times. As I’ve progressively gotten more and more involved each year, I’ve found that I become more efficient and better at managing my time. THON is the largest student-run philanthropy, so academics are a very important aspect of what we do. And, one of the most important things THON has taught me is how important people and relationships with those people are. You just find time for the people you care about.

OS: What moment(s) are you most looking forward to in this upcoming THON season (you can be as specific as you want, like a certain moment/event during the actual THON weekend)?

ET: One of my favorite events all year is the Family Carnival. It’s exciting to see so many families come down to State College. This is often the first time many Captains and organization members meet Four Diamonds Families. It’s amazing to see the bonds form each year, and I like to take a moment each year to step back and watch the interactions that are often life-changing for many students.

OS: Why do you THON?

ET: There are several reasons why I THON, and why everyone THONs. I’ll share one THON experience I had that continues to be a driving force for me.

I had hit a low point during the 46 hours in THON 2009 when I was dancing for Atlas; I was struggling to stay awake. Once Family Hour started, it all turned around. It’s so hard to express the emotions you feel hearing families speak about their journey, and their fight against cancer. After “Angels Among Us” played, the mother of our THON family came up to each dancer, hugged us tight and said, “thank you.” Two simple words meant so much, but it was really us who should be thanking them. Their family taught us so much about the courage to push forward, even though the future can be scary, honesty with the truth of their difficulties and journey, wisdom with all they had learned to get them through each day, and the strength to carry on. I will never forget that feeling, and how grateful that they not only let us into their life, but into their family. That is why I THON.

OS: Can you predict/guess any events of 2011 that might make this year’s dance?

ET: I would have to say that the royal wedding, and the end of the NASA space shuttle program have a good chance of making this year’s line dance.

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About the Author

Ryan Kristobak

Hailing from Lebanon, PA, I am a senior majoring in print journalism. Things I enjoy include lovesacs, denim, mullets, Fight Milk, Jonny Moseley, and "hang in there" kitten posters. Things that bother me include "fun" sized candy bars (not fun), fish, shoobies, wet door knobs, baby leashes, and Jake Lloyd.

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