My Journey: Will

My name is Will Wilt and I am a freshman in the business school studying Management & Marketing. Helping others has always been an integral part of my life. From the time I was in elementary school and old enough to have my sentences make sense, I’ve been giving back to the community and those around me. My “Why” is not the typical story you will hear in Terp Thon. When I was a junior in high school, I had some friends that went to a high school in Pennsylvania. Every year their school held an event called Mini-THON. It is quite similar to Terp Thon, except it is related to Penn State’s THON. I know… Penn State is supposed to be our rival. This being said, when they told me what Mini-THON was, I knew I had to get involved in some capacity. I researched, contacted people, and wrote out an entire plan of how to implement Mini-THON at my high school. I am from Carroll County, Maryland – a pretty secluded county. No one had heard of anything like Mini-THON, and I ended up getting blank stares from anyone who happened to listen to me go on and on about it. Initially, the administration told me I was crazy and that we were in no place to take on something of that scale, but I refused to take no for an answer.

I spent the summer between junior and senior year preparing to present my idea once again. This time, we had a new principal who was on board. I found a staff advisor that was ready to take on the task and we began planning. We built a team that was as passionate as I am. In my four years at Winters Mill, I had never seen the student body unify behind a single cause in such fashion. The school was strewed with blue and gold colors – the colors of Mini-THON. We set a goal of $5,000 – a goal we didn’t think we would achieve. To our amazement, we raised $13,514.20. I will never in my life forget that number… Through all the countless hours of determination, obstacles, and tears, we brought our student body together “For the Kids”. After Mini-THON, I realized I could not just be done with fighting pediatric illness. One night when I was lying in bed – tearfully reminiscing about the joy Mini-THON brought me – I came across Terp Thon’s Instagram page. Knowing I was coming to the University of Maryland, I told myself I had to be a member of Terp Thon. I was not done making a difference in children’s health. When I got to campus, it was pretty much the first thing I did. Joining Terp Thon has been such an amazing part of my first year at Maryland, and I cannot wait for three more years of dancing For The Kids. I have met so many amazing people that are absolute inspirations. I am writing this after our last AHOD before the big day, and I am so excited to experience my first Dance Marathon. My “Why” is that I want to dance for all those who are unable to dance. My “Why” is to make a difference in the world. My “Why” is because of my passion for helping others. My “Why” is for more smiles. The real question I ask people is “Why not?”. I am so grateful for Mini-THON, Terp Thon, and the difference it has made in my life and the lives of so many others.

My Journey: Analeigh

My journey with Terp Thon ultimately began on February 5, 2003, the day after my 5th birthday. I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. While over the years this illness has brought its challenges including other diagnoses, it has also led me to some amazing experiences that have helped me discover passions of mine that I’m not sure I would have otherwise had. One of these is child health. I feel so fortunate that I have had access to top-notch healthcare that has allowed me to live a pretty full life. I want to make sure that other kids facing pediatric illness can have as few barriers as possible to receiving quality care. Before I even arrived on campus for my freshman year, I knew I wanted to be involved in Terp Thon. I was put on the Public Relations committee my freshman year and have been on it for all four years, even serving as the Public Relations Chair on the Executive Board for Terp Thon 2019 and as a Captain for Terp Thon 2020. 

At one of my first meetings as a new Planning Team member, I learned about Seacrest Studios, which was still fairly new at the time. I was immediately drawn to it as both a journalism major and a person who spent a lot of time as a child waiting in lackluster “play areas” in waiting rooms. About a year later, when I received an email about internships at Seacrest Studios, I knew I had to have one before I graduated.

I finally was able to intern at Seacrest Studios during the spring semester of my junior year. For the longest time, I had struggled with how I could combine my passion for journalism with the passion I had for Terp Thon. I felt like I would have to choose one over the other, but Seacrest Studios showed me that it is possible to do both at the same time! There wasn’t a single day where I didn’t wake up excited to head to the hospital and see what was in store. I did everything from going to patients rooms to deliver supplies for our interactive programs to having Frozen sing-a-longs to helping host special guests in the studio to calling BINGO on screen while dressed up as an emoji! However, what will stick with me the most is hearing the stories from grateful parents and Child Life specialists about how Seacrest Studios helped their child. Whether it was seeing their child smile after days of being in pain and stuck in their hospital room or going to a meet and greet at a concert and having the artist remember them from a visit to Seacrest Studios, it was clear to me that we were playing such an important role in the healing process of every child that walks into the studio. 

At the time of my internship, I was on the Exec Board and we were in our final weeks of Dance Marathon preparation. We always talk about how we stand for not only our Miracle Kids, but all the kids currently in the hospital who we will never meet. Being able to meet some of those kids who would be laying in one of the 323 beds at Children’s during Terp Thon was really special and added extra meaning to an already emotional event. Interning at Seacrest Studios was one of my favorite experiences I’ve had in college, but without Terp Thon I would have never done it. This is just one of the many things that Terp Thon has given me throughout these past four years, and I will always be so grateful that my journey brought me here.

My Journey: Emma

Hi there! My name is Emma Meverden, and I am a sophomore student majoring in History. I am currently involved in Terp Thon through the Greek Ambassador program.

While I do not have a personal connection to Children’s National, I do have a familial connection to cancer. During her childhood years, my cousin Jennifer was diagnosed twice with Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS), a malignant form of cancer that develops from skeletal muscle cells that have failed to fully differentiate. Now, she is fully healthy and happy, married with two children of her own.

When I enrolled at the University of Maryland as a freshman, I knew I wanted to be a part of something bigger. It was during Jenn’s treatments that she stayed at a local Ronald McDonald House (RMH). With this in mind, I was inspired to join my sorority, Alpha Delta Pi, whose philanthropy is RMH. Upon joining, I met several sisters who were Planning Team members of Terp Thon. Seeing their passion and joy towards Terp Thon inspired me to fundraise for Dance Marathon–and I loved every second of it. The fact that the Greek community and student organizations as a whole come together to dance, cheer, and support each other every year is beautiful. Additionally, it is wonderful to help a hospital that has strong ties to RMH, reinforcing my bonds with my sorority’s philanthropy while creating new bonds with Children’s National Hospital.

To me, Terp Thon is the best example of the phrase “one good deed inspires another.” Through my involvement in Terp Thon, I have formed more meaningful friendships and connections with people I have never met before. Most touching of all is the opportunity to fundraise for and dance with our Miracle Kids. Being able to do all of this and more has become one of my favorite college memories that I know will last a lifetime.

My Journey: Surya

My journey with Terp Thon and Children’s National Hospital interestingly began with one of my favorite committees: Mini Marathons. A Mini Marathon is any community-based event, mainly including events at local high schools that benefit Children’s National under Terp Thon. In high school, I had always been interested in becoming a pediatrician, so I knew that I wanted to host a fundraiser for a local hospital as my senior Capstone project. I organized a dance performance that raised funds for Children’s National. and I was lucky to have two former Executive Board members attend my event. They both inspired me to join Terp Thon as soon as I arrived on campus my freshman year. After a year on the Mini Marathons Committee, I decided to join the Terp Thon Executive Board and work directly with these community events and with my own committee. My year as the Mini Marathons Chair was one of the most meaningful times of my college experience. I learned so much about the amazing work the hospital does and how much an impact we can make on improving child health. Joining Terp Thon has allowed me to meet some of the kindest and most motivated people who share my passion for child health. Each year at Dance Marathon, I am inspired to see the resilient Miracle families and see how college students can come together for a cause greater than us all. I hope to stay part of this movement and learn from the next generations!

My Journey: Alli

It was a warm day in May, right before I noticed a rash all over my legs accompanied with an unbearable amount of pain. The year was 2006; I was 6 years old and just about to finish the first grade. This was right before my dance recital, I was not sure if I would be able to push through the pain, but I ended up doing so and dancing to the song ‘Lollipop’ while holding a pink styrofoam oversized lollipop to add to the visuals. Directly after the recital had ended I was brought to a local hospital. When they informed my parents that they could not identify what was wrong, I was then transferred to Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, a Children’s Miracle Network hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. After a 2 week long hospital stay, it was revealed that I had Still’s disease, a form of Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. 

Perhaps the worst part of this diagnosis was being prescribed doses of steroids, each delivered through shots. Each Friday, my dad had to give me these shots on my thigh. This would trigger a great deal of anxiety, causing me to get sick before or after it was delivered. This was not the only stress that the shots had caused me, as it also stunted my growth. For an entire year I did not grow at all, and also gained a lot of weight as a side effect to the medicine. In many ways, this forced me to second guess my abilities, particularly my love for dance. I believed I did not have the right look or build as my other peers to take on the stage to dance. While these thoughts went through my head, I had decided to persevere and to expand my love for dance that I once had and dance competitively. However, I was unable to do a lot of the choreography as a result of joint pain. This caused a greater deal of anxiety and belief that I was failing everyone. In addition, my dance teacher would call me “fat” and many times poked fun at my inabilities. It was nearly impossible to push through all of this. After that year, I stopped dancing competitively and only took one class. It was as if my love for dance was completely ruined, all as a result of my diagnoses.

My parents had noticed my confidence and self esteem decrease immensely and looked at new schools for me, where I could hopefully find myself again. I then began attending Garrison Forest School in my 4th grade year. This was an all-girls school, and after a few short months, my parents saw a complete change in me. I began to take more and more dance classes, and found joy again. A few years later, I ended up stopping dancing entirely, solely because I had gotten more involved at school and found a deep love for the stage through musical theatre. 

My entire world changed the summer before my senior year of high school when I had found out that my mother’s breast cancer had spread beyond her breast, and to the spinal fluid, her brain, and the rest of her body. When she passed away peacefully in hospice care, I knew that I wanted to work in a field that would make an impact on people. I wanted to be someone that would be remembered one way or another. This was when I came to the epiphany that I would want to be an Elementary Education major, just as my mother was, and be an inspiration to many just as she was to her students. When I was meeting with my college counselor and formulating a list of potential places to attend, she turned to me and said “you know, I think you need to find a school with a Dance Marathon program, that is an atmosphere I see you thriving in.” Little did she know, she was right. After being accepted to the University of Maryland, it met our criteria and I knew that was the school for me. 

While participating in Terp Thon, it was as if I was brought back to my childhood. I stood on my feet and danced my heart out. Sure I was in pain from all the time spent dancing, but that did not stop me from wanting to keep going. I watched the Miracle Kids do the same. What particularly stood out to me was the Miracle Kid Talent Show, where each of the Miracle Kids displayed a talent and proved to be more than their diagnoses. This was inspiring to not just me, but everyone in attendance. This triggered a memory of my third grade self, when I decided to participate in my camp talent show and sing to “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey. That was the first time in a while that I could just be myself. The amount of joy I had on stage then, reminded me of the joy the Miracle Kids had on stage now. 

Here I am today, and I could not be more ecstatic to be involved in Terp Thon this year. I am a member of the Morale Committee, and doing just as I had always wanted. I get to make an impact on the College Park community, and most importantly, the kids. The smiles that we as members on morale get to inspire is something I will always treasure. In fact, the love I have for Terp Thon has grown so much that I am currently in the process of starting a Dance Marathon Program at Garrison Forest, to allow them to make miracles just as we do at College Park. I participate in Terp Thon for those that need more happiness and hope in their life, just as my first grade self would have. I am so grateful to have a community that cares about this so much, and I cannot wait to play a role in all of it. So THANK YOU for giving me the opportunity, I look forward to all the smiles and joy we can spread at Terp Thon 2020.

My Journey: Brenna

My journey with Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals began as a personal one, starting out as a patient in one when I was in middle school. The hospital can be a very scary place filled with endless stressors, especially the stress of waiting for a diagnosis. I am forever grateful for the exceptional care I was able to receive; more importantly, I am grateful for the activities I was able to occupy my time and distract myself with during my stay thanks to philanthropy. I knew coming into college that I wanted to get involved in Terp Thon to give back to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals; in addition to providing me an outlet to do so, being a part of Terp Thon has allowed me to immerse myself in and give back to something bigger than myself. Being a part of Terp Thon has reinforced my desire to go into medicine, specifically the field of pediatrics, some day. Being able to raise funds and awareness For The Kids at Children’s National for patients and families we will never have the chance to meet for the past three years has been the best and most meaningful part of my college experience so far.

My Journey: Elyse

My name is Elyse Broder and I am a rising sophomore from Rochester, NY studying psychology, and this will be my second year on the Public Relations  Committee. My Terp Thon experience started in the fall of my freshman year (2018). A friend of mine from home had just graduated from UMD and told me that one of the first things I absolutely had to do was apply to be on Terp Thon Planning Team.  I took her advice and made sure to apply as soon as the application went out.

While I do not have a specific connection to Children’s National Hospital in Washington DC, I do have a very personal connection to a pediatric condition.  My twin brother and I were born 12 weeks premature. We spent seven weeks in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) at Albany Medical Center and were on ventilators for the first 48 hours of our lives.  We also required feeding tubes and were attached to monitors measuring our heart and respiratory rates. NICU nurses had to check our monitors almost every 15 minutes. This was a terrifying time for my parents; two kids, born at 28 weeks, with two new parents living in a new city all by themselves.  

During our time in the NICU, the neonatologists and neonatal nurses went above and beyond every single day caring for my brother and I, while also giving my parents hope that one day they could bring their newborns home.  My parents had a special relationship with one nurse in particular named Allison. She was incredibly protective of my brother and I and provided my parents with endless support. The NICU also allowed parents to call 24 hours a day to receive updates about their babies at any time.  I am incredibly lucky to have been taken such amazing care of by the NICU staff at Albany Medical Center. Without them, my brother and I might not have survived.

Terp Thon helps raise money for children with numerous illnesses and conditions, such as prematurity.  I owe it to my nurses and doctors to raise awareness, fundraise, and stand for 12 hours (the average shift of a nurse at Children’s National) to honor them and fight for the kids who need help just like I did.  Terp Thon has inspired me to make a difference and help children and families in need. After experiencing my first Dance Marathon in 2019, I was blown away by the strength, positivity, and hope that our Miracle Kids possessed.  I participate in Terp Thon for them, and plan to be a part of Terp Thon Planning Team throughout the rest of my time at UMD. I cannot wait to continue making a difference For The Kids!

My Journey: Aaryn

Hi, my name is Aaryn! I am a member of the Family Relations committee this year, but my Journey with Children’s National started 5 years ago when I was diagnosed with advanced stage cancer.

I could tell you everything cancer took from me. I could tell you how it took my freedom, my innocence, and my carefree youth. But I choose to tell you something different.

Cancer cannot take away how I choose to use my finite gift of time.  Cancer cannot take away how I choose to bless others with my gift of health.  Cancer cannot prevent me from being a force of positivity and a voice and an advocate for wellness and health.  Cancer cannot stop me from bringing comfort and peace and happiness to those experiencing fear and conflict and sadness.

I have made a conscious choice to return to the place where I finally received answers and care, because I want to make sure my legacy of wellness and giving prevails. That place is Children’s National Medical Center.  It is at Children’s National Medical Center where the staff shared their finite gift of time with me. It is the fabulous Children’s National family who brought me comfort and peace and happiness during those hours and weeks and months when I was filled with fear and conflict and sadness.

When I tutor patients at Children’s National, I’m sharing the gift of my mind; when I hold a newborn baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, I’m sharing my gift of comfort.  And when I dress up as Dr. Bear and dance through the hallways of the inpatient units, I’m spreading my legacy of warmth and happiness.

Sometimes when I volunteer, I see a mother and I recognize a familiar look in her eyes, one that my own mother often had when I was a patient at Children’s.

I look for an opportunity to engage with that mom and do anything to bring her comfort. Even if it’s simply watching her child for a few minutes while she takes a break or bringing her a cup of coffee.

And as I walk past the Terp Thon bear station in the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, I think of how far we’ve come, and how far we can go. Since 2010, Terp Thon has raised over four million dollars!!! Because of the money students like you have raised, Children’s National can continue to provide hope to families who need it most.

Terp Thon brings light during the darkest times in these family’s lives.  I have experienced and witnessed that light firsthand. I’d like to challenge each of you to continuing being that light by helping Miracle Kids and their families face these obstacles head-on and move past. To our Children’s National Health System family, thank you for walking with me and the Miracle Kids and the families of the Miracle kids through our longest hours.