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THON Cancels Third Canning Weekend

THON’s third canning weekend was cancelled indefinitely today, as announced in a letter to the THON community by 2016 Executive Director Katie Mailey. Originally scheduled for Nov. 13-15, it is the second of three canning weekends to be canceled in the aftermath of Tally Sepot’s death. The Penn State sophomore tragically died in a car accident returning home from the first canning trip. Sepot was not wearing her seatbelt and the driver was cited for reckless driving.

The incredibly well-written letter goes in depth about the obvious safety concerns having thousands of students on the road at once, but also brings up another interesting point. Mailey writes that she received “an increased number of reports from both parents and students about volunteers being pressured to fundraise for THON” as another reason to reevaluate canning.

Mailey cites a desire to continue canning next year in a “safe and sustainable way.”

Here is the complete letter from Mailey, as published on THON’s website:

Dear THON Community,

As I said in my letter a few weeks ago, we wanted to take time to come to a conclusion about the future of Fundraising Outreach & Canning Weekends for the THON 2016 season. I want to thank our volunteers, alumni, and stakeholders across the country for their outpouring of input and support during this time. I truly can’t thank you enough for your patience as we evaluated our fundraising practices.

Canning itself is a multi-faceted fundraising practice that has long been part of THON’s culture and tradition. Not only does it raise awareness of THON’s mission, but it also provides a direct way for student volunteers to engage in fundraising for the fight against childhood cancer. I recognize this and want to assure you that I am committed to working to preserve canning as a fundraising practice in the THON community for future years. In order to do this, further assessment of all aspects of canning must be done.

After reviewing potential improvements to volunteer safety surrounding Fundraising Outreach & Canning Weekends, the third weekend will be cancelled and not be rescheduled. I know that this will affect plans and raise questions for many student organizations, but through this letter, I want to explain how we came to this decision. It’s critical to note that there are improvements that can be made to the safety of canning and we are determined to make them, but we need more time to implement a sustainable and robust solution. Our goal in this decision is not to remove canning from THON’s fundraising model forever. We are striving to improve the safety and culture of fundraising with the help of University and State authorities. The remainder of the year will be used to properly set up fundraising practices such as extensive alternative transportation to popular canning locations, data collection on volunteers fundraising for THON and education on driver, passenger, and general volunteer safety. Again, we are committed to improving the sustainability of canning. We do realize it is impossible to eliminate all risk associated with travel, but we want to ensure that we mitigate the risk as much as we can, and we need more time to do so.

In addition to expressing concerns about travel safety, several stakeholders in the Penn State community have expressed other concerns about fundraising. This year we have received an increased number of reports from both parents and students about volunteers being pressured to fundraise for THON. THON does not condone any type of forced fundraising as outlined in our rulebook. In recent weeks, we have learned more about forced fundraising and that there are different pressures, both implicit and explicit, that our volunteers are facing to fundraise for THON which we were not aware of before. These feelings are amplified around events such as Fundraising Outreach & Canning Weekends, when there is an increased pressure to fundraise on the three designated weekends that allow canning. It is not acceptable in any way for a volunteer to feel that they are being forced to fundraise for THON, and we recognize that there are underlying influences in our culture that contribute to forced fundraising. We feel strongly about acting on these reports to improve our fundraising methods. We came to the conclusion that there are remedies such as alternative transportation to make canning a safer fundraising practice, but there is a tendency to force fundraising in our community that we must address immediately and throughout the year.

Travel safety still remains a large consideration when evaluating Fundraising Outreach & Canning Weekends. Travel safety includes not only the timing of canning throughout the year, but also how far and in how many vehicles our volunteers take to different canning locations. There is still work to be done in making sure our volunteers are traveling as safely as possible. It’s important to note that this decision was not born out of any one incident. The decision to cancel the third weekend was more to pause canning as a whole and be able to present it next year in a fundamentally more safe and sustainable way. We understand that you may seek additional explanation. Feel free to visit this document for frequently asked questions.

What THON does year over year is incredible, and we could not do it without the thousands of dedicated volunteers that work day in and day out without being asked. Those volunteers are critical to this organization and that does not go unnoticed. As always, we appreciate your feedback and we want you to know that we made this decision with the safety of our volunteers as our top priority. Fundraising totals are one way of representing the outcome of THON 2016, but THON’s impact goes far beyond any numerical representation. Our organization is captivating because of what students are doing as part of something that is so much bigger than themselves. They are connected to this broader cause, but also to each other, and watching that develop is one of our organization’s biggest successes. Our mission is to not only to raise funds for childhood cancer, but to also raise awareness, and we will not lose sight of that this year nor in the future. Every dollar raised is contributing to a better tomorrow for Four Diamonds families and every volunteer is acting as a unwavering support system for those families. Although our organization continues to face challenges, we will continue this fight for the families and For The Kids.

For the Kids,

Katie Mailey

There will be much more to say about this topic, of course, and we’ll continue to publish as we receive more information. If you would have given at either of the past two canning weekends, consider donating directly to THON on its website.

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About the Author

David Abruzzese

David is a senior from Rochester, NY, nestled right in beautiful Western New York. He is majoring in Broadcast Journalism, and as an avid sports fan, he passionately supports the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres. He is the first Penn Stater from his family, and couldn’t be prouder to represent Penn State University. In his free time, he likes to alpine ski, and play golf. You can follow him on Twitter @abruz11, and can contact him via email at [email protected]

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