Lifting her arms to form the Dance Marathon hot air balloon logo above her head, Isabella Castillo, a third-year industrial engineering major, anticipated another miracle story at UF’s Dance Marathon.

She was inspired to get involved after learning from a friend the true meaning behind the event. This year at UF Dance Marathon, Castillo was moved by the story of young Bella, a Miracle child who had to stay in the hospital for 465 days. “Every time I was in pain or wanted to quit, I remembered I was team Bella and I did it for her,” Castillo said.

As one of the five founding Dance Marathon programs in the nation, Dance Marathon at UF celebrated its 25 years of rockin’ and rollin’ this past weekend by raising a historic $3,230,025.23 for children at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital. Dancers stood on their feet and awake for 26.2 hours from March 30 to March 31 for this Children’s Miracle Network event.

The Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) is a non-profit focused on helping children’s hospitals through raising funds and awareness. The organization pledges to keep all donations in the area where they were raised to encourage community support of families in local-area hospitals. UF Health Shands sees more than 8,500 pediatric cases yearly, which is more than half of its total inpatient population. Steady donations from Children’s Miracle Network have helped UF Health Shands rise to become one of the top 50 pediatric hospitals in the nation.

What exactly does it look like to be a dancer at UF Dance Marathon? Castillo says it’s a lot of fun. “The Morale team kept us energized and excited with fun activities, such as a silent disco or my favorite, the line dance,” Castillo said. With six different themes, which transform the floor during different hours with decor and activity, dancers have no time to get tired. Miracle stories of pediatric cancer victories are sprinkled throughout the event, as well, to remind dancers of the purpose behind their efforts.

UF Dance Marathon 2019 had 5,000 participants, 20 directors, 489 captains, 191 emerging leaders, 150 sponsors, and 825 student dancers. The volume of participants, funds raised, and planning that goes into UF Dance Marathon earns it the title of being the most successful student-run philanthropy in the southeast United States. Students have opportunities to learn about fundraising, grow in leadership, and most importantly contribute to something bigger than themselves.

Each year since its founding in 1995, donations continue to increase. More than $18.2 million has been donated to UF Health Shands through UF’s efforts in Dance Marathon. This year’s funds supported 77 Miracle Families, who have children being treated at UF Health Shands. Of all the money raised, 48 percent goes to research, 10 percent goes to education, and 42 percent goes to patient care. An important component is the ability to purchase equipment and fund valuable research that helps doctors find cures for diseases from cancer to cystic fibrosis and juvenile diabetes.

Alexa Scherbak, a third-year family, youth, and community sciences major, has thoroughly enjoyed her position as 2019 family relations captain because she has been able to see the impact firsthand. Her miracle child, McKenna, has had a tremendous effect on her. “Being able to see how much joy she has in every part of her life has been encouraging,” Scherbak said. “Her family is so humble and has taught me to see hard moments as a way to grow. They have changed the way I live daily,” Scherbak said.

Dance Marathon at UF is just one of many events hosted here where college students can understand the importance of philanthropy and generosity.