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New Initiatives Help Hospitality Committee Make The Most Of THON 2021

THON’s Hospitality committee is arguably one of the most essential components of the annual by keeping guests and dancers fueled, healthy, and happy. With a virtual experience this year, HOS has needed to adjust and make the most of the circumstances for dancers and other THON-goers.

We sat down with THON Hospitality captains Abby Hanlon and Colleen McFadden to get an inside perspective on how the committee has made changes during this unprecedented time.

Hanlon and McFadden are seniors at Penn State with a serious passion for all-things THON and Hospitality. Both have been involved in THON throughout college — Hanlon spent time as a Hospitality and Dancer Relations committee member and a 2020 Hospitality captain, while McFadden also spent time as a Dancer Relations committee member before becoming a cadet and making the switch to Hospitality last year.

“I felt like I really found my place in HOS because it’s a really funky group of people,” McFadden said.

During a normal year, Hospitality committee members are in the BJC during THON, providing direct food service to dancers and guests. The pandemic makes this job tricky, but Hospitality managed to make it work.

“HOS, in general, looks very, very different this year,” remarked McFadden. “With food service usually being so contact-heavy, we’ve had to make a lot of adjustments to our plans during THON Weekend.”

The captains crafted a nutrition guide for dancers to reference during the 46 hours, including snack recommendations for when they feel tired. They also gave dancers a snack box and coupons to local downtown State College restaurants.

Another challenge for the Hospitality committee this year was keeping donors involved, which is where the local business coupons came into play.

“We toyed around with so many different ideas, but at the end of the day, this was the best option and I think the dancers are really going to love it,” said Hanlon.

Another very exciting thing that the HOS committee is doing this year is selling chicken baskets in the BJC to benefit THON. You can order through the Penn State Go app and donate a portion of the proceeds to an organization of your choice.

“We’re opening up the BJC concession stand for chicken baskets during THON Weekend, which is huge because we know everyone loves the chicken baskets at the BJC, and that was a great way to keep committee members involved,” said McFadden.

“Not everyone will get the opportunity to volunteer in-person, but those who have had their COVID test and have been chosen by their captains are going to get the chance to still get a little bit of in-person action THON weekend,” she continued.

Faced with the challenge of the pandemic, the HOS committee had no choice but to get creative. Usually, captains follow the lead of their predecessors, but during this unusual year, Hanlon and McFadden had to start from scratch when finding ways to bring dancers meals and keep committee members involved.

“Most people can follow what their predecessors did and change it if they want to, but we had to completely scratch what our predecessors and previous dancer meal captains have done in the past and come up with something completely new that would fit perfectly into this year,” said Hanlon. “It’s a challenge but it’s kind of what we signed up for.”

The committee member experience looks very different this year in general. It’s difficult to bond with fellow committee members through a computer screen, so captains needed to look for unique ways to have fun and make the most of it virtually.

“Learning to connect with people in new and different ways has been really inspiring, and even though some of the people on our committee have met once or twice in person, I still love them just as much as the other friends that I have,” McFadden said. “We’ve been putting together a lot of fun online activities to try and keep everyone as engaged as possible.”

This year has taught dancer meal captains Hanlon and McFadden how to overcome obstacles, be flexible, and think outside-the-box.

“Going into this year, I knew it would be different, but I knew that I still wanted to support THON’s mission and help the Hospitality committee, so I went for it again,” said Hanlon. “This year has taught me so much more –not that last year wasn’t valuable, but it’s just learning how to be flexible, coming up with new ideas, being more creative, and still being able to fight towards THON’s mission no matter the obstacles.”

The duo said it’s also served as a reminder of their favorite THON memories and why they THON.

McFadden reflected on one of the family stories she heard in one of her captain meetings, where they heard about the family’s experience with quarantining, not necessarily because of COVID, but to keep their child healthy. Unfortunately, quarantining isn’t new to these families.

“It’s special because we get to share some of that with them and get into the headspace of their experiences — feeling the fear of being sick and having to separate from the people that you love,” said McFadden.

Abby reminisced on one of her favorite THON memories when her parents came to visit her on the floor of the BJC last year. Her dad never quite understood how special THON was until he experienced it first-hand.

“He couldn’t believe I had been working towards this all year. He got teary-eyed,” she said. “Just seeing THON from someone’s point-of-view who doesn’t understand it, and then him coming and seeing it, and being so proud of me made it feel like it was all worth it, even though it was my dad.”

A memory that Colleen cherishes is her first THON freshman year as a member of the dancer relations committee. McFadden had become close friends with her dancer and felt so supported by him, even though her job was to support him.

“My dancer and I had really clicked; we were very fast friends. The excitement and passion that he was showing for THON in those moments inspired me and got me very excited and even though I was supposed to be supporting him, and I was supposed to be his person for the weekend, he was so focused on me experiencing my first few moments of THON, and that just really encapsulated the THON experience for me,” said McFadden.

“Everyone is truly there to support each other, and everyone is excited and passionate about what they’re doing.”

Although THON 2021 is different to say the least, the mission remains the same.

Hanlon and McFadden said they have an immeasurable passion for THON and worked diligently to prepare for this year, safely engage committee members, and ensure that dancers received the support they deserve, whether it be in the form of meal boxes, coupons, or nutritional guides.

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About the Author

Lauren Wysseier

Lauren is a sophomore writer majoring in advertising from Fort Myers, Florida. She is a Floridian but, at heart, a Pennsylvanian. Her go-to fun fact is that she used to live in Barcelona, Spain. She is passionate about dogs, food, the Oxford comma, and most importantly, all-things Penn State. Don't hesitate to send her your best dog videos on Twitter @laurenwysseier or email [email protected] with other inquiries.

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