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‘FOTO Is Family’: Special Interest Org Embodies Purpose Of THON

THON is well underway at the Bryce Jordan Center, and a number of special interest organizations are right in the thick of their 46-hour crusade in the battle against pediatric cancer.

Unlike some of its counterparts, FOTO isn’t a juggernaut of an organization. It only had a dozen or so members in section 103 of the BJC at around 6 a.m. Saturday, but FOTO’s smaller size was part its appeal to current president RJ Charno when he joined as a freshman.

“FOTO is family,” Charno said. “We’re kind of a middle-of-the-road org — we’re not too small, but we’re not too big, either. You can make an honest connection with other people [in FOTO].”

Charno joined FOTO with no prior experience or connection to THON. The organization was founded in 2009 in honor of Tommy Fountaine, the son of State College borough manager Tom Fountaine.

Tommy is now a pediatric oncologist in Rochester, NY after defeating cancer as a child. He received his medical degree from Penn State’s College of Medicine and now specializes in diseases of the blood, spleen, and lymph glands in children. This includes leukemia and lymphoma, two of the more recognizable forms of cancer.

Today, FOTO represents three THON families: the Eslingers, the Tramels, and the Knapers. The organization first paired with the Eslinger family shortly after its creation in 2009 to support Megan Eslinger, who was 18 months old when she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in January 2009. Her story has a happy ending: She finished her cancer treatments in April 2011 and is a happy and healthy 11-year-old today.

Megan Eslinger is a perfect example of what FOTO sets out to do every year. Stories like hers are why Charno even got involved in the first place.

“I THON because of FOTO,” he said. “I had no experience or connection with THON before joining, but it shows how much we do for these kids. We give them a chance to be kids.”

Like most special interest orgs, FOTO fundraises throughout the year leading up to the 46-hour dance marathon in February. It raised $41,387.56 in its inaugural year and finished fourth among special interest orgs by raising $113,409 #FTK last year.

Its biggest fundraising method is canvassing, but it also holds bake sales and fundraisers at restaurants and hotels throughout Delaware County. The biggest third-party fundraiser the organization holds is called Night at Duffer’s, which is held around winter break and raised about $8,000 this year.

FOTO doesn’t have any crazy traditions (like fuzzy pink hats), but a bunch of the organization’s members come together and carbo-load in the days leading up to THON weekend. The org also holds a family field day during the year, when all three THON families come out to a State College gym for a day of fun and games.

“All the kids get to run around for a day, which is really nice,” Charno said. “We just try to keep up.”

Charno hopes to inspire more people like him to get involved in THON, and FOTO plans to continue its efforts supporting its three THON families.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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