UA students near $200,000 in fundraising for young patients at St. Jude


Members of the 2011-12 Up ’til Dawn Student Executive Board are, from left, Maria Zimmerman, Alyssa Medvec, Kelsey Menuez, Abby Gerdes, Amy Dravecky, Greg Pennypacker and Jeffry Rennert, with advisers Thad Doyle and Alison Doehring.

Most college students have pulled all-nighters to study before a big exam, but those who participated in Up 'til Dawn this past weekend will tell you their bleary eyes were all about a worthy cause.

The 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. event hosted Friday into Saturday by UA's student organization of the same name was the finale to months of fundraising for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. The $34,014.50 raised this year, combined with totals from previous years, brings the group's donations to St. Jude to $192,000 since its founding on campus six years ago.

The nautical theme for the event, "Cruisin' for a Cure," hosted in the Student Union Ballroom, drew more than 200 students who had a variety of food, activities, video games, entertainment and a silent auction to keep them awake all night.

Students work to benefit others

UA is one of more than 350 colleges and universities nationwide to have an Up 'til Dawn student organization raising funds for St. Jude. The late entertainer Danny Thomas founded the hospital in 1962 to treat children with cancer and no one is turned away because of an inability to pay.

Like other Up 'til Dawn student organizations, UA has a seven-member executive board directing fundraising efforts. The major fall fundraiser is always a letter-writing campaign with materials supplied by a regional representative from St. Jude. The board recruits students who pay $5 each to serve on six-member teams. Each team member is asked to send at least 50 of the prewritten fundraising letters to family members and friends. At the fall 2011 campaign event, about 300 students participated. 

As donations are received from the letter-writing campaign November through February, other fundraisers are conducted as well. A "Bachelor Auction" hosted by Zips Programming Network netted $800 and local Applebee's and Chili's restaurants donated 15 percent of the proceeds from dining out events organized by Up 'til Dawn.

The finale event is more of a thank you to the students who participated in the letter-writing campaign than a fundraiser. But it is open to all students, so those who didn't volunteer in the fall are asked to pay $5 to attend.

Easy to relate

"Even thought St. Jude isn't local, everyone knows about the work it does and participation with Up 'til Dawn has been consistent each year," says Thad Doyle, associate director of Student Life and the organization's adviser. "Many students come back year after year. Some get involved because they have a personal connection — they know someone who has been touched by cancer. For others, they just feel passionate about getting involved in something that is bigger than themselves."

For Maria Zimmerman, of Norwalk, it's both.

The honors public relations major says she has always been interested in community service. And, her mother is a seven-year survivor of breast cancer.

"Danny Thomas always said, 'No child should die in the dawn of life.' That's how Up 'til Dawn got its name," says Zimmerman, now in her third year with the organization. "It's pretty easy to stay awake for that one night, actually, when we remember why we're doing it. When you think of all the hard nights the children and their parents have, it's not so much to ask."

Zimmerman, who will graduate in May, served this year as executive director of the student organization. "It's been a great experience to be involved with Up 'til Dawn and see the difference we can make."

Kudos shared

At the Up 'til Dawn event, several students were honored for their fundraising efforts.

The top five individuals were: Sean Brolly of Cuyahoga Falls, $1,150; Steve Brodecky of Uniontown, $680; Moira DeWalt of Medina, $630; Helen Dauka of Lisbon, $605; and Michelle Hudson of Stow, $565.

Joy Mining Machinery was the top fundraising team with $1,937. Its members are Steve Brodecky of Uniontown, Maggie Knisley of North Canton, and Michael Minnick and Thomas Minnick of Hubbard.

The Akron Swim Team was recognized as “Most Spirited.”

The members of the 2011-12 Up ’til Dawn Student Executive Board are Maria Zimmerman, Norwalk, executive director; Jeffry Rennert, Wakeman, morale chair; Alyssa Medvec, Hubbard, recruitment chair; Amy Dravecky, Youngstown, all teams meeting chair; Abby Gerdes, Hubbard, finale chair; Greg Pennypacker, Northfield, public relations/marketing chair; and Kelsey Menuez, Millersburg, prize/sponsorship chair.

Thad M. Doyle, associate director of Student Life, serves as the student organization’s adviser, and Alison Doehring, coordinator of civic engagement in Student Life, is the co-adviser.