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UGA students raise $1 million for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta

Hundreds of students showed up to participate in the Dance Marathon. (UGA Miracle)

By Stan Jackson/UGA Today

On Sunday afternoon, Feb. 25, UGA Miracle, the University of Georgia’s largest student-run philanthropy, announced they had raised $1,075,281.24 for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. More than 2,000 students representing over 30 student organizations gathered in Tate Student Center Grand Hall overnight Feb. 24-25 for UGA Miracle’s annual Dance Marathon.

The annual event took on a double purpose this year as UGA Miracle also sought to encourage comfort and fellowship as the campus community mourned and processed the recent tragic deaths of two students.

“While our cause is at the heart of what we do,” UGA Miracle said in a social media post Friday, “our focus this weekend is primarily on supporting each other and celebrating our Miracle families and yearlong efforts.”

A group poses for a photo during the silent disco segment of the Dance Marathon. (UGA Miracle)

Beginning at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday and lasting until Sunday afternoon, thousands of students, faculty, staff and members of “Miracle Families” danced, enjoyed live music, and continued fundraising for the final few hours of a yearlong effort.

This was the 29th annual Dance Marathon. The event is a symbolic gesture of sacrificing a day in support of children who have had to sacrifice much more of their own time to combat illness in hospitals. Since its inception, Miracle has raised more than $15 million for Children’s Healthcare – $9 million of that total coming in the last eight years.

Allie Hengler, a fourth-year marketing and public relations major from Dawsonville talked about the increased joy that students experience as they continue to engage with Miracle during the years at UGA.

Purple Team members Shawn Gillespy and Kinsley Purvis learn a morale dance at the UGA Miracle Dance Marathon inside the Tate Grand Hall. (Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

It’s really daunting when you enter that big room in your first year and maybe you know only a few people,” Hengler said. “But you end up making so many friends and finding your passion. Every time we flip over a total, it makes me want to be more involved. I’m in this for life.”

The final fundraising total represents the entire year’s effort, including milestone events like “Zero to Hero” in October, “Beyond Limits” in November, and “Ring the Bell” day in January. The students raised more than $300,000 across all three events.

This year, in a slight change from previous years, 90% of funds raised go to support CHOA’s Comprehensive Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit (CIRU). The other 10% of funds raised go to the AFLAC cancer and blood disorders unit, supporting child-life specialists and hospital life. The largest gym in the CIRU is named after UGA Miracle, where UGA students typically meet with their “Miracle children” on hospital visits.

This year’s event included the traditional activities, such as the “hair chop challenge,” morale dances, games and activities for the children and their families, and the student-favorite “silent disco,” along with student bands, DJs, comedians and other entertainment that perform throughout the night.

Though Dance Marathon’s origins are in Greek Life, the event and UGA Miracle have grown in recent years to include students and organizations from across campus, including teams from athletics, individual school and college majors, professional schools, campus ministries, and various university departments.

Student Korie Rudin dances with Hairy Dawg and fellow Red Team members at the UGA Miracle Dance Marathon inside the Tate Grand Hall. (Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

The most stirring aspect of Dance Marathon is the attendance of the “Miracle children,” Children’s Healthcare patients who interact with Miracle’s student members during the year. Each year, these children and their families are delighted to return to the Tate Center to share their inspirational stories from the main stage.

Though the fundraising is an important part of UGA Miracle’s mission, the primary focus of the students is supporting the children and health care workers at CHOA. Miracle hosted dozens of patient parties across several floors of the hospital throughout the year. At the October event, organization members and the Miracle children and their families gathered at Washington Farms in Oconee County for Family Day.

Two years ago, CHOA announced plans for UGA Miracle’s involvement with the Arthur M. Blank Hospital, their new flagship facility. The hospital was originally scheduled to be completed in fall of 2025, but the project is running well ahead of schedule and is now slated to be completed a year early, in fall of 2024. UGA Miracle members have been invited to visit the site and tour the 19-story, state-of-the-art facility.

Upon completion, the AFLAC cancer and blood disorders unit will be fully housed at the Arthur M. Blank Hospital, meaning that UGA Miracle’s philanthropic efforts will be shared between the new facility and the CIRU gym at Scottish Rite.

When the total was revealed Sunday, the usual sights and sounds of laughter, celebration, tears and hugs filled Tate Grand Hall.

Tess Abraham, a fourth-year nutritional sciences major from Milton served as the chair of UGA Miracle this past year. She discussed the pride that she felt in her executive board and student members at what they had accomplished.

“I was so excited to see everyone’s hard work pay off,” Abraham said. “Being student led, we face our share of challenges along the way, but in the end, you walk into the event and see the organized chaos and all he fun everyone is having and realize it’s all worth it.”

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