“We just wanted to go outside the normal realm to spark some interest,” Drake grad student Curt Orchard said, a day after donning his swim trunks and flying down a very chilly slip ‘n slide into makeshift bowling pins spelling out the word “cancer.” Its an uncommon sight in Iowa, even when the temperature outside is not below 60 degrees.
Orchard serves as the executive director for Drake University’s division of Up ‘til Dawn, a student-led, student-run, nationwide philanthropic program hosted by colleges and universities to raise funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.
St. Jude is one of the world’s premier pediatric cancer research centers, with the goal of one day finding cures for children with cancer and other catastrophic diseases through advanced research and treatment.
Up ‘til Dawn takes its name from the belief that “no child should die in the dawn of life,” and aiming to raise funding to help St. Jude provide care for the more than 5,700 children suffering from pediatric cancer and other diseases that the hospital treats per year.
St. Jude, which costs roughly $1.3 million per day to operate, is run primarily on donations, making participation in fundraising events such as Up ‘til Dawn all the more critical.
Drake’s Up ‘til Dawn is sponsored by Phi Delta Chi, a professional pharmaceutical fraternity. They have been participating for the past two years, after first learning of the event while working on a separate fundraising effort, “Prescription for Hope,” which aimed to add a pharmacy to St. Jude. The fraternity dedicates all of its philanthropy efforts toward Up ‘til Dawn.
“We just think it’s a good thing to do for the campus and especially for the children,” said Phi Delta Chi chair Hanna Raber.
Students participate in the event by forming a team of about six people who then gather at an event to collect donations for St. Jude by writing a goal of 50 letters to friends, family and alumni asking for a donation for a worthy cause. Each of the letters contains a story of one of the patients at St. Jude, reminding potential donors exactly whom their charity would benefit. Phi Delta Chi members are hoping to raise $30,000 this year through this process.
Last Friday from 6 p.m. until midnight, several student teams at Drake gathered in the Bell Center to address letters to anyone who might be able to lend a hand. However, the night was not all business for the students trying to drum up support for a good cause.
In addition to spreading awareness and seeking donations to aid in the fight against pediatric cancer and many other debilitating diseases that inflict children, the event also consisted of what Orchard called a “huge party.” It had music, food and plenty of entertainment to ensure that the students who volunteered to burn the midnight oil had fun while doing so.
Included in the evening’s entertainment were a Buffalo Wild Wings-sponsored wing-eating contest, games and music playing all evening. The Student Activities Board arranged for a special appearance by multi-talented comedian/magician Derek Hughes, whose interesting combination of jokes and illusions kept the philanthropic students entertained for much of the night.
“[Hughes] really put on an awesome show,” said junior pharmacy student and Phi Delta Chi member Dan Janke. “It was a great time for a great cause.”
Drake is not alone in its efforts to raise money and awareness to aid those desperately in need. Schools across the country participate in Up ‘til Dawn, with many different organizations spearheading the campus efforts.
Laurel Johnson, a junior at Illinois State University in Bloomington, Ill., is a member of the service sorority Epsilon Sigma Alpha. They, like Phi Delta Chi and countless other student organizations across the nation, dedicate as much of their time and effort as possible to raising money, and most importantly, awareness for St. Jude.
“I don’t think there’s ever going to be enough awareness,” Johnson said. “There’s always something we can do. Every little bit helps.”
Photo: Scot Johnson