How A Group Of Friends From Packer Hall Became One Of Penn State’s Largest THON Orgs

Everyone wants to find their place when they come to a new school, especially at a huge campus like Penn State. Some rush a frat or sorority, some join clubs or organizations, some try out for sports teams.

Like a lot of people starting out as freshmen, I really only hung out with friends from home or girls from my floor in Packer Hall. I considered rushing, but I wasn’t sure Greek life was for me. One thing I did know is that I wanted to get involved with THON.

I joined a small special interest org, hoping to get involved from the get-go, but I didn’t understand the inside jokes that came up during meetings. It felt exclusive, and it was intimidating for a shy freshman who didn’t know another soul in the org. Everyone I knew told me I’d find my place and my people, but I wasn’t sure how long that was supposed to take.

By spring semester, someone on my floor introduced me to her friends from home, who also lived in Packer. Crammed into a supplemental room, we found common ground in the fact that we all wanted to get involved in THON, but didn’t know exactly how. Starting a brand new THON org seemed like a no-brainer.

Our new group, Eclipse (to help “eclipse” pediatric cancer), started to meet every once in a while to figure out what we needed to do to really get started. When someone mentioned we’d need a logo, my visual mind immediately offered to start designing, and I spent hours creating dozens of concepts for the group to choose from. I knew I wanted to continue this level of time commitment and involvement, so I reached out to our group leader, Colin Heminway, and volunteered to become something of a public relations chair for the org.

I emphasized to the group that we’d need positions to delegate responsibilities like leadership, fundraising, finances, and more, so one day we packed back into that supplemental dorm room, developed our position descriptions, and chose who would fill these roles. Colin had become a natural leader of the group, so he was chosen to be president. He could tell how excited I was about our collective creation, so he suggested I be one of two vice presidents — and I was thrilled.

By fall 2016, Eclipse was established through Student Affairs and THON. Three of us sat at the involvement fair with a makeshift sign that just said “Eclipse,” and somehow we still caught the attention of students at the fair. We described to every prospective member that we were a brand new, small special-interest org, hoping to keep an inclusive family vibe.

That semester, we held our first fundraiser and canning trip, which evolved our 30 members into a tight-knit family. We raised enough throughout the year to get nine tickets in the dancer lottery, and luckily were granted two dancer spots in THON 2017 — another chair, Emily Karpf, and myself.

Dancing at THON was a dream of mine even before I came to Penn State, so I was completely taken aback and honored to represent Eclipse at our very first THON.

I was sick and unable to attend THON 2016, so dancing in my first THON was crazy to me, especially as a sophomore. Eclipse was posted up in the nosebleeds of the BJC with tiny letters that I could barely see from the floor, but looking up to each person in our small section helped me push through to the 46th hour. Eclipse raised a little more than $10,000 that year, all For The Kids.

The Eclipse family continued to grow the following year, so we focused on keeping things tight-knit even as we reached 150 members. We had heard of other orgs dividing their members into “families” to split up fundraising efforts, but we wanted everyone to do everything together. This made it easy to include and continue to build bonds between each and every member.

That year, we decided to share our fundraising efforts by teaming up with Tau Kappa Epsilon. We were allotted three dancers between us — two for TKE and one for Eclipse, based on our previous year’s fundraising totals.

Our hardworking alt funds chair (and one of my best friends), Christina Rapone, was chosen to represent us on the floor. This time around, we had a much bigger section in the lower bowl at THON. We raised four times as much as the previous year (about $47,000 of our pairing’s $50,000), which seemed astronomical to me, but we knew we could continue to increase our efforts.

After two successful years, we began to think about the longevity of the organization beyond our original group’s graduation. I wasn’t looking forward to giving up the position I’d worked hard to develop, considering Eclipse felt like my baby by that point, but I had total faith in the enthusiastic and hard-working members we chose to become the next group of chairs.

The fall 2018 involvement fair left the organization with more than 500 members, and it was hard to believe so many people wanted to be a part of our little org that used to fit in a supplemental dorm room. Eclipse had quickly become one of the largest student orgs on campus, something my co-founders and I — now seniors — couldn’t have imagined our freshman year.

We stepped up our alternative fundraising this year to fill the canning gap, brought members together with canvassing trips, and moved meetings to an even bigger room in Sparks. It was crazy to see so many people wearing the merch that I had designed over the past three years.

Eclipse had four dancers in THON 2019: Colin, our original canning/canvassing chair Cassidy Krier, and two of our most loyal members, Adam Lambert and Danny Guerra. The weekend will always hold a special place in my heart. Eclipse took over the middle section of the BJC and even overflowed into another section in the upper bowl, filling both with energy and hope to cheer on our dancers.

I was able to go on the floor during the Final Four, helping our dancers and experiencing the emotion and electricity of the final stretch of the weekend. There was nowhere I’d rather be than literally holding up my fellow co-founders while honoring the kids we weren’t able to help beat cancer.

We couldn’t help but cry when the org totals were announced and we found out that Eclipse was the third special interest org with more than $120,000 raised throughout the year. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw our name surpass the efforts of orgs that have been on campus for years. We never saw it as a competition, but seeing how far Eclipse has come in just three short years was astounding.

It’s impossible to explain the love and hope of THON Weekend to someone who’s never experienced it. Pediatric cancer is a nightmare for people around the world, and we do this to change that. Our fundraising efforts give hope to those who didn’t think they could find it again, and I truly believe it’s groups like ours and the THON community that will find a cure. Every meeting, fundraiser, canvassing trip, 5k, THONvelope, and DonorDrive share is worth it.

I THON for the kids who are fighting, for the kids who lost their battles, and for the kids who we’ve helped win their battles. I THON so that another child can see a brighter tomorrow, hold their family tighter, and feel a little less pain. I THON for everyone in my life who has been affected by cancer.

I THON for Eclipse, the organization that I’ve been honored to help build from the ground up, that has taught me so much about life, and has given me friendships that will last a lifetime. I couldn’t imagine my experience as a student at Penn State without Eclipse and everyone in it. I’m thankful for this journey as a leader and a friend, and every moment we’ve shaped is priceless.

I’m so proud of everyone who has been involved with Eclipse, whether you’ve been there from the beginning or became involved this year. I’m thankful for the friendships, the donors, the support from my family and friends, and even Onward State for helping us get our name out there and showing the world what we can do.

When someone tells you that you’ll find your place and your people in college, believe them. It may not come to you right away, but it will eventually happen. You can join any of the groups that already exist here at Penn State to try to find your “thing.”

But if that doesn’t work, you can always create your own.

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About the Author

Carly Weiss

Carly is a senior Media Studies major and is from the ever-so-famous "outside of Philly". You can contact her at [email protected] or hit her up on Instagram @carlyweiss.

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