An estimated 16,000 children in the United States are diagnosed with cancer each year, according to www.cancer.gov—which means a child is diagnosed every 36 minutes. The organization Four Diamonds (www.fourdiamonds.org/mini-thon) is on a mission to change that by engaging students in the fight to conquer childhood cancer.
During the 2018–19 school year, 90,000 students in 265 elementary, middle level, and high schools raised more than $7.2 million through Four Diamonds’ Mini-THON® events.
Four Diamonds Mini-THONs are fun-filled events that include sports, dancing, food, and activities organized by student leaders. These leaders recruit fellow students to participate in fundraising activities, organization meetings, and events to inspire and empower the entire school community to rally behind the mission of conquering childhood cancer. Dollars raised support childhood cancer research and the discovery of better, more effective treatments. This lifesaving research is shared with hospitals worldwide. Since 1993, Mini-THON has raised more than $43 million to help Four Diamonds conquer childhood cancer.
Leadership in Action
The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) prides itself on investing in the next generation, recognizing that great leaders in every school are committed to the success of each student. NASSP also promotes the intellectual growth, academic achievement, and leadership development of students. Four Diamonds believes in the next generation, too, and works to help build future leaders and philanthropists.
Through NASSP’s outstanding leadership programs such as the National Honor Societies and NatStuCo, students can apply their leadership skills to host various activities and fundraisers that culminate in one energizing event—events just like Mini-THON.
Mini-THON gives students and schools an opportunity to be leaders in their community. Students are empowered to find their voice, make a difference, collaborate with their peers, and put the skills they have learned in the classroom to work. This opportunity for lifelong learning has changed school cultures, united school spirit, and groomed powerful student leaders, giving them skills to be successful in their futures.
“Think of something within your school that you’d like to change. Is it inclusivity? School spirit? Culture? Mini-THON has improved these in the hundreds of schools that have implemented our program,” says Kristen Masengarb, director of the Mini-THON program. “Mini-THON has been an agent of culture change in schools nationwide, creating a more positive, inclusive school environment. Mini-THON has been forging student leaders for more than 25 years, and most importantly, Mini-THON has been supporting kids with cancer to the tune of $43 million.”
Mini-THON Partners With Student Government
“Our school has been hosting a Mini-THON for six years now, and the impact this program has had on our school and community is phenomenal,” says Felix Yerace, assistant executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Student Councils (PASC) and co-adviser to South Fayette High School’s Mini-THON in McDonald, PA. “It is a wonderful example of student engagement and student voice in action, as well as a great project-based learning opportunity.”
The South Fayette High School Mini-THON started in 2013 after a group of students brought the idea to their teachers; it raised $3,700 the first year. Since then, the school has gone on to raise more than $574,000 for Four Diamonds. South Fayette’s Mini-THON is sponsored by its student government, and an honors-level management and marketing course was developed to work closely with the student government and NHS chapter to plan Mini-THON events and fundraisers throughout the year, including a Glow Run.
“Mini-THON has become a huge part of the life and culture at our school. More than two-thirds of our student body participates, learning a tremendous amount about leadership, service, and giving back to others,” Yerace says. “I believe this promotes civic engagement and helps give students the efficacy they need to be successful later in life. Students also have a chance to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom—skills such as budgeting, marketing and promotion, and soliciting donations and corporate sponsorships within the community.”
Brandon Flannery, co-adviser to South Fayette’s student government and the Mini-THON, says, “Mini-THON is a great example of student leadership in action. The best part of Mini-THON is that it’s open to everyone and promotes a sense of equity while giving each student who participates a feeling of accomplishment and belonging.”
“Our school culture has been positively impacted by Mini-THON, including our students, faculty, administration, and community,” he notes. “It is remarkable to see everyone dedicate themselves to our Mini-THON event and, more importantly, the cause. We have seen tremendous growth both in participation and fundraising, and I think that is directly attributed to our students being so passionate—it becomes contagious.”
Four Diamonds Mini-THON and PASC launched a three-year partnership in November 2018 to expand leadership opportunities and benefits for students and schools by uniting in their shared goals of empowering students, developing leaders, and inspiring acts of service. This partnership supports both organizations and their missions by cultivating relationships, sharing resources, and engaging middle level and high school students through philanthropy and community outreach. Student council leaders throughout Pennsylvania are invited to join this powerful movement to conquer childhood cancer by starting a Mini-THON at their school, supporting an existing Mini-THON at their school or in the community, or raising awareness and fundraising for Mini-THON.
“Mini-THON brings our community together to work for a great cause,” says Carly Rodriguez, student council vice president at Boyertown Area Senior High School in Boyertown, PA. “Schools, businesses, and members of the community alike donate their time, effort, and resources to raise thousands of dollars that help fight pediatric cancer.”
Kelsey Thayer, Boyertown’s student council president, notes that Mini-THON “shows the importance of kindness, perseverance, and compassion—we work together to be part of something bigger than ourselves.”
Outlining the Mission
Four Diamonds’ mission is to conquer childhood cancer. Since its creation in 1972, Four Diamonds has helped more than 4,000 children and families by supporting a robust pediatric cancer research program at Penn State Children’s Hospital in Hershey, PA. Four Diamonds covers 100 percent of medical bills for every family with a child at the hospital.
The organization conducts innovative research to find better treatments and cures for all childhood cancers through Penn State Health’s nationally and internationally recognized research programs. Scientists and doctors work to:
- Conduct clinical trials that lead to new treatments and drugs
- Offer treatment and hope to patients whose disease is not responding to therapy
- Foster collaboration with doctors and scientists around the world
- Train researchers to continue to fight for the next generation
“Four Diamonds acts as a bridge to make sure our patients receive the therapy they need, and we don’t have to worry about how their care will be paid for. The dollars raised by Mini-THON help us get the job done,” says Valerie Brown, a Four Diamonds researcher. For instance, Rylee Dorer’s cancer journey started in 2006 when she was six years old and diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s T-cell lymphoma—beginning a fight that would take her years to win. She has been in remission since 2010.
Despite a good prognosis for Rylee, her father Shannon says the whole experience was frightening for his family. Knowing all of Rylee’s medical bills that weren’t covered by insurance would be paid for by Four Diamonds was a tremendous relief. Her family is also thankful for the support of her dedicated social workers, psychologists, and music therapists—all services that may not have been possible without Four Diamonds and the generous support of the community. Today, Rylee is an active member of the Red Lion Area Senior High School student council in Red Lion, PA, and she also participates in Varsity Club and Four Diamonds Mini-THON.
Rylee is so grateful for those who helped her in her recovery, including her care team, Four Diamonds and Mini-THON. “Our lives have been forever touched because of the love, passion, and dedication of these individuals,” she says.
Leigh Anna Hilbert is associate director at Four Diamonds Mini-THON.