Happy feet

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Houston Key Clubbers step it up with a dance marathon to benefit Texas Children’s Hospital.

Story by Sarah Moreland
Photos by Scott Dalton

If you were just passing by, the Houston-area Dance Marathon would have been hard to miss. The Holland Lodge’s three stories were covered in neon: cardboard disco balls hanging from the ceiling, paper streamers dangling on the stairway, bright orange and green signs and balloons taped to the wall. Even the statues inside the building sported neon-colored plastic hats.

They welcomed Key Clubbers from across the state of Texas, who were decked out in neon tutus, feather boas and jumbo sunglasses. It was all part of a grand celebration of lives saved at the Texas Children’s Hospital — as well as lives that would be saved in the future. And it all started because of one Key Club member.

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Healing touch
Jennifer Tuggle Hinze knows what it’s like to be a patient at Texas Children’s Hospital. Born prematurely, the former Kempner High School Key Club member has dealt with health issues, spending the past four years seeing specialists for everything ranging from asthma to gastrointestinal problems. Sometimes the problems go away with simple medication; sometimes they require surgery. Regardless of the complexity, the doctors at TCH have found ways to get Hinze healthy again.

It’s not just the staff who have made healing easier. During Hinze’s recent visit for a meningitis scare, volunteers brought her coloring books and teddy bears.

“One volunteer said, ‘I’m not worried about it being contagious. I just want you to feel better. You look like you’re really sad and scared,’” says Hinze, shown in the hat in the bottom photo. “And she read to me from ‘Brown Bear, Brown Bear,’ and it made my day. As I was getting all of those tests done, I knew that someone cared.”

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Inspired moves
Hinze’s firsthand experience at TCH inspired her to start a dance marathon in her Key Club division. She had heard about the dancing fundraisers sponsored by Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, an organization that supports 170 children’s hospitals in the United States and Canada. Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals is also one of Key Club International’s preferred charities. In July 2012, she gathered some of her Key Club friends together and began planning. About eight months later, the Houston-area Dance Marathon was a sure thing.

There’s not a specific definition for what a dance marathon should be, says Key Clubber Jenny Li, a member of the event’s planning committee.

“The idea of a dance marathon has really evolved and changed over the years. Originally, a dance marathon was a lock-in type thing with games and food,” Li says. “But a dance marathon can encompass so much more than that. We’re getting corporations to sponsor us, mom-and-pop businesses to donate some of their money and time and products, and most importantly we’re getting the community involved by really celebrating what it means to give back to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.”

This marathon lasted only seven hours, and attendees weren’t required to dance the entire time. They could make coloring books and cards for TCH patients, grab some edible treats from the concession stand or drink tea and chat in a makeshift “tea room.”

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The dance played on
Even before attendees had arrived, Hinze and her team had started talking about a dance marathon for 2014. Hinze, now a freshman at Texas A&M University, is no longer leading the group, but she says she’s happy that the event will be her Key Club legacy. But before she got too hyped up, she told herself to focus on the dance marathon’s real legacy.

“What I had to keep in mind is no matter how much money I raise, this money goes to the hospital and the kids, and it will make an impact.”

“Doing what we’ve done promotes what Key Club is all about: giving back.”

In fact, her Key Club raised more than US$9,375 for Texas Children’s Hospital the night of the dance marathon.

“I think that’s just beautiful,” Hinze says. “Children can’t control how much money they have at home, and they can’t control the diseases they have, either. It’s not fair for them to have to pay for that. Doing what we’ve done promotes what Key Club is all about: giving back.”

Avaya

A reason for rockin’
Events like the Houston-area Dance Marathon eases the financial burden on families like Kelley Holloway’s.

In October 2010, Holloway noticed that her daughter, Avaya, was having trouble breathing. She rushed her to TCH, where doctors discovered a tumor on her heart. That night, surgeons removed the tumor in a six-hour open-heart surgery. After several rounds of intensive chemotherapy, Avaya is now two years out of treatment and cancer-free.

Cancer treatments aren’t cheap, but Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals will not turn patients away—even if, like the Holloways, they’re unable to pay.

“Texas Children’s Hospital gives out so much in charity care, and doctors have the opportunity to perform miraculous surgeries,” Holloway says. “It became our second home. We felt like family there.”

Little Avaya’s happy ending was one of many success stories Key Clubbers heard at the dance marathon. At the end of the Holloways’ presentation, Hinze and her team presented Avaya with a gift basket—including a ballerina piggy bank. She grinned all night, happy to be up past her bedtime and at the center of attention.

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Step by step
One common thread in successful fundraisers is community participation. “Not just people,” says Jenny Li, “but groups, corporations and small businesses.”

Li and Houston-area Dance Marathon creator Jennifer Hinze suggest the following steps to ensure you get the best sponsorships possible.

Be confident. “Just go out there and talk to businesses,” Li says.

Be polite. “It’s not about going in and having an aggressive, intimidating conversation with the manager,” Li says. “It’s about being amiable and easy to approach.”

Be honest about your goal. Let potential sponsors know up front that you’re working with a charity. Hinze also recommends bringing paperwork about the organization. If the charity has a  tax-exempt status, let them know that too. Donors like to make gifts with tax advantages.

Be prepared. Hinze suggests bringing information about your event to leave behind with potential sponsors. Include your contact information on the flier or brochure. If they don’t immediately say yes, they might change their minds—and they’ll need to contact you.


Start a dance marathon in your community! Go to http://www.cmnhospitals.org to find out how you can give back to hospitals near you.

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