Dance Marathon Program Grows Into A Student Fundraising Tradition At WHS
Over the course of the last five years, the students at Wellington High School have raised $164,829 to help the Children’s Miracle Network through the Dance Marathon program.
They started out slowly, raising $11,710.39 in 2013, the first year WHS participated in the program. They raised a bit more in 2014, bringing in $11,802.67, and raised the stakes further in 2015, bringing in an impressive $14,648.25.
In 2016, the goal was set at $25,000. The school surged through that goal, raising a record $42,223.52 and earning the recognition of raising the most money of any Florida high school, noted Student Government Association sponsor Melissa Varvarigos.
In 2017, following the previous years’ expectation, the students not only achieved their goal of raising $50,000, they soared past it, raising an astounding $82,444.17, including $3,450.40 contributed by students at Wellington Landings Middle School.
Dance Marathon started out as a college fundraiser through the University of Florida. They call the high school Dance Marathon events “mini marathons.” WHS now ranks as the No. 1 school in Florida, the No. 1 school in the southern United States, and the No. 5 school in the entire nation, Varvarigos said.
And it wouldn’t be possible without the passion and drive that her students have displayed, with two students in particular, Sam Weingart and Jake Anders, rallying the students and acting as the driving force behind the growth of the Dance Marathon program at WHS.
For the first three years, approximately 100 students attended the seven-hour event. Last year, the number doubled to 200, thanks to the efforts of Weingart. In 2017, there were 300 attendees, Varvarigos said.
Weingart ran the event in 2016, and Anders took over in 2017. He will once again be running it in 2018, during his senior year. “This is an organization that I love,” said Weingart, now a student at UF.
Dance Marathon, he added, was the deciding factor for him choosing UF over other schools he considered, such as Emory University. “I couldn’t give up Dance Marathon,” Weingart explained. “At the end of the day, it all came back to Dance Marathon.”
He hopes to become a captain, working marathon relations for high schools. “It all started freshman year when I was in the auditorium,” Weingart recalled.
He saw a video about Dance Marathon and the children impacted by the money raised. “It really sunk in to me, and when they turned on the lights, I was in tears,” Weingart said.
Weingart is confident that if everyone works together, following their passion, it is entirely possible for the school to raise $100,000 in 2018.
“You just need one person to ignite the flame — one person who is really passionate about something,” he said.
And that person is his successor, Anders, joined by the rest of the SGA team.
Anders is already setting up a busy calendar of events for Dance Marathon 2018.
Last year, the students held car washes, restaurant food nights, a carnival and the move-a-thon at Wellington Landings. This year, they’re looking at adding other events, perhaps even a golf tournament, he said.
“It’s a huge group effort, and it’s run through our Wellington High School student government,” Anders said. “We not only work with our student government and within our school, but we also work with the Wellington Chamber.”
Dance Marathon had a booth at the chamber’s Winterfest.
“There are a lot of people who come together to put on Dance Marathon, even if it’s not for the actual event on that exact day,” Anders said.
The day of Dance Marathon is special. “Miracle Children,” those who the fundraising is really for, come and take part. In 2017, three Miracle Children attended.
“One of the best parts for me is that everyone who walks in the room leaves saying it was the best night of their life,” Anders said.
It’s personal for Anders, as well. He has gone to the Shands Children’s Hospital in Gainesville, the nearest Children’s Miracle Network hospital, walked the halls and met with sick children. He has seen personally what they, and their families, go through, and how money from Dance Marathon helps.
“Being able to be someone who can advocate, and not only raise money, but raise awareness and support and comfort to these families, is a feeling that is like no other,” Anders said. “It has honestly changed the way I’ve thought about life, and changed the way I want to live my life. It has definitely given me what I want to do when I’m older — become a pediatric cardiologist and hopefully work at Shands.”
In the background, always supporting the SGA students, is Varvarigos.
“Mrs. Varvarigos is honestly amazing. She is a mother to two kids, a wife and our SGA sponsor, and basically a mother to all 28 kids in that room. She is incredible. She is there from the start of everything to the end of everything,” Anders said. “We couldn’t have done it without her.”
Varvarigos is proud of her students and their ability to engage others with their passion. This year, more than 25 students raised more than $1,000, earning them a spot in the “Comma Club.”
Their accomplishments, their passion and their drive, leave her proud of her students, current and former.
“There are so many things that the SGA does, whether it’s the $82,000 or bikes for Rosenwald [Elementary School] or the homecoming events, they put their all into it. You look at that, and you’re really proud,” she said. “They’re just awesome kids.”
The students display a special sense of selflessness working on SGA projects.
“The kids often say we’re like a little family, and it’s true,” she said. “We have different facets of personality, some crazy, some funny, some quiet. We have kids who run the gamut, but at the end of the day, they’re right. We are a family.”
To learn more about the children impacted by Dance Marathon, visit www.floridadm.org/meet-the-kids.