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Nazareth Academy students stayed on their feet for 12 hours during a dance marathon, but they weren’t just having fun, they were raising money for sick children.

Dance party: Nazareth Academy’s annual Naz-A-Thon raised more than $192,000 this year. SOURCE: NAZARETH ACADEMY / SUPPLIED PHOTO

Last Friday, Nazareth Academy High School hosted its fourth annual Naz-A-Thon, a 12-hour dance marathon in the gym to benefit Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Cheryl Sylvester, class of 1989 and a math teacher at Nazareth, started the fundraiser in 2014 and has run it every year since.

“One of our students had battled thyroid cancer, and we wanted to do something special for her,” Sylvester said. “When we got a connection through Temple University talking about this high school dance marathon asking if we would like to do it, we thought, what a great opportunity to start something where we can honor her and support CHOP, where she was treated.”

Planning for this event is now a year-long process, but the first year was put together in just seven weeks.

“We really had no idea what we were doing.” Sylvester said.

With so little time to plan and it being the first year, the goal was set to raise $5,000 for CHOP. To the surprise of everyone in attendance, the dance raised over $20,000.

“There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.” she said.

After quadrupling the goal in the first year, it was clear Nazareth had something special brewing.

Since the first Naz-A-Thon, there has been a year of fundraising to prepare for the big day.

Donations come from a wide variety of corporate sponsors, local businesses and everyday people wanting to contribute to a good cause.

At the event, there were plenty of giveaways of raffle baskets donated by local businesses. In 2016, Naz-A-Thon had 63 raffle baskets, which pales in comparison to the 121 baskets for 2017.

Although the sponsors provide these donations, the legwork is all done by the students, says Lisa Rabbitt, associate director of School and Youth Programs at CHOP.

“I educate them on where the funds go and take them to the hospital and see where their money goes.”

In previous years, the funds have been donated toward oncology, diabetes and neurology research, to name a few. The students get to select where the funds go each year. and this year decided to donate for child life, diabetes and neurology.

Rabbitt stressed the importance of events like this to certain specific functions of the hospital.

“Child life, for example, is a donor-funded program that is not usually funded by insurance,” Rabbitt said. “We would not have this department without philanthropy and events like this.”

As stated above, the students take on a massive role with the fundraiser, and no one knows that better than Bridget Herbert, a senior and executive director of operations for the Naz-A-Thon. She oversees all of the five senior directors, 19 executive members and 95 committee members.

Herbert was also responsible for making sure committee members reach their goal of $250 and executive members reach their goal of $400.

To make sure everyone is on the same page, Herbert remains in constant contact with the administration on the event and even joked, “We basically live in Sylvester’s classroom, I’m in there every day.”

Nazareth models its event after Temple University’s “HootaThon.”

Ariela Kogan, Temple’s director of high school dance marathons, was in attendance for Naz-A-Thon to see it all come together.

“The atmosphere is just so upbeat,” said Kogan. “Everyone is proud of each other, everyone is supportive of each other, and having that atmosphere where everyone supports each other makes the event so much more successful.”

From 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., students packed the gymnasium as they danced to music and heard powerful stories from those who have benefited from CHOP.

In 2013, Micki Ramos’ 9-year-old son, TJ, was playing baseball at Torresdale Boys Club when he collapsed on the field.

At first glance, those there thought it was a seizure, but it turned out TJ went into cardiac arrest. Two off-duty police officers in attendance gave TJ CPR.

TJ was later diagnosed at CHOP with catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia (CPVT), a genetic heart condition.

He was treated at CHOP in 2013, and joined the family on stage as his mom discussed how much it means to them that Nazareth is raising money for CHOP.

“There’s families there like my own whose world just changes in an instant,” said Ramos. “The world needs more of thinking of other people.”

The goal for 2017 was once again surpassed. Nazareth was hoping to raise $104,000, but ended up bringing in a total of $192,400.44 for Naz-A-Thon.

For the money raised, Herbert said, “It’s pretty mind-blowing because we’re such a small school. We’re all involved in different things, but this is the one thing we all band together for, to raise money for.” ••

John Cole can be reached at jcole@bsmphilly.com

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