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The Rutgers University Dance Marathon (RUDM) is New Jersey’s largest student-run philanthropic event and this year was the 16th anniversary. Over the years, RUDM has contributed more than $3.5 million to Embrace Kids Foundation, a non-profit organization located in New Brunswick.
Embrace Kids Foundation is comprised of college students, parents of patients, professionals and community leaders who all work together to ease the burden of families of children who have cancer and blood disorders. The organization provides free programs and support services, emergency financial support, trauma counselors, tutors and child-life specialists to the families that need it and it tries to help improve the quality of life for the children and their families. RUDM is one of the main contributors to the organization and helped the organization to expand its services to the tri-state area.
The students that participate in the marathon have to stay on their feet for the entire 30 hours. Sophomore Matthew Ryfa, who participated in the RUDM, said that the beginning hours of the event flew by because there were many activities to keep the students busy. He said that for him personally, his energy started to die down at 2 a.m., but volunteers were there to hand out coffee to keep participants awake and he was able to tolerate the no sleeping policy. Ryfa said at 8 a.m., he had never felt so tired or sore in his life, but he was happy to know that the children from Embrace Kids Foundation were coming with their families and once they arrived, the remaining hours flew by. He said that staying awake for such an extended period of time was not as hard as he initially thought it would be.
Throughout the event, there were bands and DJs that performed to keep the students’ energy levels up and keep them dancing.
Ryfa said that he chose to participate in the event not because he thought he was going to have the best 30 hours of his life, but because he wanted to give back to the community.
“Throughout my life, I was lucky to have others make sure I got what was best for me, and to make sure I remained committed to a consistent path toward success. Throughout my life, there were many people who did things for me without asking for anything in return. So whenever I get the opportunity to give back to somebody, a group of people or the community, I undertake that opportunity,” said Ryfa. “I think it’s only right to do for others what they have done for you, especially when they have benefited you. I know that the children I raised money for may never know who I am. I am fine with that. But I also know that the children that I raised money for will be more appreciative than I can ever imagine to have people looking out for them, wishing they get better and providing them the assistance to actually get better, live another day and enjoy life. This makes me happy. I wouldn’t be as happy as I am today if I lived solely through my own self-interest. It is through making others happy that I can truly be happy, and RUDM provided me with such an opportunity.”
Last year, RUDM raised $503,641.77 and organizers hoped to beat that goal this year, which RUDM did by raising $622,533.98, said Assistant Director of Public Relations Mandy Frantz. Frantz said throughout the 30 hours of the marathon, no one except those counting donations knew how much was raised. She said that at the end of the marathon, some of the volunteers are given large poster boards with a number on it and the total is revealed when those students raise up the numbers for everyone to see.
The student participants not only raise money on the day of the dance marathon, but they raise money for Embrace Kids Foundation all year. There are many events that lead up to the marathon including a walk called Heal to Heel, a Thanksgiving Feast Day, a holiday party, Spirit Week and a canning weekend. The money raised from all of those events goes toward Embrace Kids Foundation. Participants in RUDM also try to raise as much money as they can with the help of community sponsors, family members and friends
Ryfa said that the best part about participating in the dance marathon was to see all of the kids and their families come to the event at the end.
“These children are plagued with worse tragedies than I can ever comprehend, but still, they are the happiest people I have ever seen. They appreciate life for what it is, day-in day-out, moment by moment. They don’t think too far ahead. They don’t blame anyone or anything for what’s wrong with them, or what may happen to them. They simply enjoy the single moment that they are in, as each of these moments come by. Seeing the joy and promise in their faces made me forget about how sleepy I was, or how much my knees hurt,” said Ryfa. “Seeing them made me realize that sometimes people, including myself, take life for granted. I did not feel pity for them that they had to go what they are, or were, going through. They were happy. I felt pity for others, and for myself, for not always living life as joyously as they seemed to be, when many of us do not have to deal with situations like theirs. As much as these kids may look up to the people that go out of their way for them, I look up to them as well. They helped remind me how beautiful and fragile life may be.”