The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday March 21st

Marathon unites service groups

The largest charity effort on campus, Dance Marathon raised more than $170,000 and featured more than 600 dancers last year.

The organization’s size has the potential to overshadow other campus charities, but many student leaders claim it actually unites the different service groups.

Founded in 1998 by then-UNC student Michael Bucy, Dance Marathon raises money for families with children at the N.C. Children’s Hospital.

Now in its seventh year, it is one of the most well-known charity events on campus.

“Everyone in Dance Marathon is pretty much involved with other organizations as well,” said junior Shannon O’Shaughnessy, co-president of the service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega and Dance Marathon’s dancer coordinator.

“No one does just one thing. It’s a great way to bring cohesion and unify people from all organizations for one cause.”

O’Shaughnessy spends about 15 hours a week working with Dance Marathon on top of the 15 hours she spends a week on efforts for APO.

The Greek system historically has played a large role in the marathon. More than 250 Panhellenic members are volunteering this year.

But many leaders of other campus charity organizations said it doesn’t hurt them that Dance Marathon takes center stage each spring semester.

“We serve children in a different capacity,” said Dave Scott, a senior and co-president of APO.

The service fraternity concentrates on other local charities, including Carolina Pediatric Attention, Love and Support, a buddy system for cancer patients.

“If anything, I think it complements what we do,” Scott said.

While maintaining a spirit of cooperation, campus charities are forced to recognize Dance Marathon as the definitive high-profile organization at UNC.

“They are so well-established that they have good name recognition,” said junior Chad Trent, president of the executive board of Carolina Cancer Focus, which has about 40 active members. “It’s harder. You see a successful organization like that … it’s harder to reach that level.”

Junior Elizabeth Sessler, co-chairwoman of UNC Habitat for Humanity, said one of the marathon’s secrets to success is getting the word out at the start of the year.

“They strike early,” said Sessler, whose group has a listserv of 2,200 subscribers. “Freshman Camp, you hear about Dance Marathon. They make sure everyone knows about it.”

UNC Habitat’s fund-raising goal for this year was $30,000, an amount that has not come easily.

“It’s been a hard year to fund-raise, with tsunami relief and Dance Marathon, but we’ve met our goal,” Sessler said, noting that the group has achieved its target through partnerships with various professional groups.

One challenge for charities is finding creative new ways to appeal for funds. Dance Marathon, tsunami relief groups and UNC Habitat compete for attention from the same students when they all use benefit concerts, bar nights and bake sales.

“Students have a fixed income and only want to see so many a cappella groups or buy so many cookies before it is tiring or too expensive, regardless of the cause,” Sessler said.

Although UNC Habitat does compete somewhat with the marathon for volunteers, that hasn’t affected its numbers — UNC Habitat has had to turn down volunteers.

But the groups’ largest projects overlap this year: Both UNC Habitat’s Blitz Build and the 24-hour marathon will take place this weekend.

The two groups also vie against one another for leadership, but each has found a large pool of potential leaders from which to choose.

“Some people who are looking for something to put on their resume will often do Dance Marathon,” said Becca Sowder, Blitz Build coordinator. “This hasn’t affected UNC Habitat too badly because we have strong leadership.”

Amy Gorely, associate director of the Carolina Center for Public Service, said Dance Marathon effectively coexists with other organizations.

“The culture of service at UNC is so strong that UNC can support many, many student organizations,” she said. “And that’s a positive thing.”

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