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Nursing Students & Best Friends: Dancers Seeing Direct Impact Of THON 2024 Donations

It’s clear throughout the stories told and memories made this weekend that THON unites people like nothing else. But there is no story as intertwined with THON’s mission as Ella Palmieri and Paige Blankenhorn’s. 

Palmieri is a fifth-year nursing major from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. After switching to the nursing program her sophomore year, she was on the same track as Blankenhorn, who is a senior nursing student from Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. 

While both girls have made indescribable memories throughout their time with THON, they said the biggest gift is each other. 

The two met when they both became Dancer Relations captains last year. As nursing students, balancing both roles was a huge undertaking. Their connections in both school and THON were a huge contributor to their decision to register as an independent dancer couple this year. 

“I was able to grow really close with a lot of my co-captains and a lot of my committee members. It was crazy being a nursing major at the same time, but it was a super rewarding experience,” Blankenhorn said. 

Carrying their experience last year with them, the two have a little bit of insight into all of the emotions one experiences while dancing for 46 hours. 

Palmieri served as the committee outreach coordinator for Dancer Relations last year. Her role involved planning yellow shirt orientation, creating survival guides, and facilitating dancer interviews.

“Hearing the dancers’ stories during THON was so inspirational and very eye-opening,” Palmieri said. “It was super cool to be able to hear dancers explain why they were at THON and what their journey was.”

“It’s our goal to carry the same energy that we experienced last year as dancers is going to be super fun,” Blankenhorn continued. “It’s so helpful knowing all of the resources we have available to us as dancers, and we’re going to try to participate in as many activities as we can.”

Aside from their memorable experience last year, both girls also have a rich history with THON. 

“The only thing that got me through my freshman year was my THON committee and the people in it who made me feel like I had a home at Penn State when I really felt like I didn’t belong,” Palmieri said. 

Her positive experience as a first-year student propelled Palmieri to continue to believe in THON’s mission and be an active participant. She spent three years as a dancer relations committee member before being elected captain. 

“Honestly, being a THON captain was my college dream come true,” Palmieri said. “It was the experience of a lifetime. I made so many wonderful friends that will be in my life forever.”

Palmieri is also a part of business fraternity Phi Chi Theta. She has gotten close with the fraternity’s THON families, too, elevating her passion. 

“You create such close bonds with people,” Palmieri said. “There’s so much responsibility involved and no one can really know what you’re going through besides those people that you are with 24/7.”

As for Blankenhorn, her interaction with THON began at a younger age. Her whole family grew up Penn State fans and her older sister was part of an initiative to bring mini-THON to their local high school. 

Blankenhorn was afforded the opportunity to attend the Mini-THON Leadership Summit with her. Talking to all of the like-minded individuals and learning more about the organization as a whole fueled her love.  

She participated in her local mini-THON through her junior year, and unfortunately, her senior year was cut short due to the pandemic. The jump from mini-THON to joining a THON committee was something Blankenhorn’s older sister helped guide her through. 

During freshman year, she joined a Rules and Regulations committee, and then worked as a supply logistics captain during her sophomore year. As a captain, Blankenhorn worked with dancer relations in terms of requesting supplies for all events. She handled most of the behind-the-scenes work of the preparation and weekend.

While the girls are both studying nursing, they also share the same course schedule. Both are currently doing their clinicals in Hershey, Pennsylvania. They knew they weren’t going to be able to be involved in THON physically on campus, but still wanted to be a part of it. Thus, the decision to IDC make the most sense.  

As a part of their clinicals, Palmieri and Blankenhorn were both granted the opportunity to spend a day on the PT Mock floor. The kids on this floor are directly impacted by the money raised through THON. 

“When you’re at Penn State, you know what’s happening, and you know where the money is going, but you don’t see it necessarily with your own eyes in person,” Palmieri said. “Being a part of this experience has made it feel a lot closer to my heart and made it a lot more real.”

During their time on the floor, a lot of their responsibilities were to simply spectate the nurses and observe. Blankenhorn ended up bringing a bracelet kit to her observation day and got to see firsthand how even the smallest of gestures and donations make a difference. 

“I got to make bracelets for an hour with one of the girls while she was getting her chemo infusion. It was so sweet to interact with the families and very rewarding,” Blankenhorn said. 

The pair unfortunately didn’t get to experience the excitement and anticipation in Happy Valley in the days leading up to THON. They instead had to lean and rely on each other for excitement since they weren’t surrounded by committee members and dancers. 

Their emotions, like most dancers this weekend, are a mixture of nerves and joy. 

“I feel like dancing in THON 2024 is a really full-circle moment for me,” Blankenhorn said. “Being able to experience this organization from so many different points of view is something that I’m super grateful for, and I’m really grateful for the people that it’s brought into my life.”

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About the Author

Ally Eaton

Ally is a freshman public relations major from York, Pennsylvania and is one of Onward State's social media editors. She gets to write awesome feature stories and create epic content for our social media pages. Ally is a lover of country music and Trader Joe's. If you'd like to discuss March Madness or your most creative coffee order, feel free to contact her on Twitter @allyeaton31 or in her inbox [email protected].

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