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‘Miracle’ Effort

It wasn’t your average human sundae being created Feb. 23 at Hatterthon.

Ten-year-old twins Carson and Kendall Shields and younger brother Cooper doused Stetson health sciences student Kasandra Meyers with chocolate syrup to create a “human sundae,” which was just one of many fun activities during the daylong event at the Hollis Center on campus.

a boy pours chocolate syrup on a girl at Hatterthon
Twins Carson and Kendall Shields — born prematurely 10 years ago — have fun with Stetson student Kasandra Meyers at Hatterthon. Photo: Courtesy of Hatterthon Executive Board

Hatterthon is part of the Miracle Network Dance Marathon, a nationwide, student-led campaign that raises funds and awareness for any one of the 170 Children’s Miracle Network hospitals in the United States and Canada — in this case, Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. 

Now in its third year, Hatterthon raised $62,531.19, more than double last year’s total and far exceeding the organization’s goal of $50,000.

It was 10 years ago that Kendall and Carson were born prematurely at the Arnold Palmer Hospital, just 24 weeks into term and each weighing just slightly more than one pound.

Junior Tara Tovkach, executive director of Hatterthon

“When they were born, it was going to be a miscarriage,” said Tara Tovkach, a junior business management major from Gainesville and executive director of Hatterthon, which has a student board and 22 “morale captains” who organize and spearhead the fundraising event.

The twins’ mother “was able to have an experimental surgery in order to try to save their lives, and it worked,” Tovkach added. “When they were born, their parents [Heather and Allan Shields] were told the twins were going to have learning deficiencies, and they may not walk or talk because of how high-risk they were. They wouldn’t be able to do a lot of things that children could do.”

These days, Carson and Kendall are members of the National Elementary Honor Society at their school and are among “the top leaders in their class,” Tovkach said, noting: “They’re very smart kids.”

And they are excellent makers of human sundaes, as they proved at Hatterthon. The event was attended by eight “miracle families” whose children have received treatment at Arnold Palmer Hospital, said Lizzie Dement, assistant director of Student Development & Campus Vibrancy at Stetson.

Those parents and their children shared their stories, while the kids participated in activities and games such as “trash pong,” face-painting, coloring and Zumba dancing. They were aided in their fun by Hatterthon student organizers, as well as other Stetson students. 

Students danced all day for a worthy cause.
Photo: Courtesy of Hatterthon Executive Board

The morale captains led massive line dances every hour on the hour during the event, which ran from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“We do call it a dance marathon. but we do not dance the whole time,” Tovkach explained. “We had music going all day, and the whole point is for people to be on their feet for the duration of the event, to show that we are in solidarity with the children at the hospital. If standing so long can be uncomfortable, imagine what your life would be like going through what they have experienced.”

Some fundraising occurred during the day at the event’s “jail,” in which donors could pay to have someone put in, and that person in turn would have to raise funds to get out. But most of the fundraising came from various efforts made throughout the year. According to the Stetson Hatterthon page at dancemarathon.com, 482 participants and 37 teams contributed to the effort by collecting donations from across the Stetson community and beyond.

Dement said making Hatterthon’s fundraising a year-round effort contributed to this year’s record tally.

The Hatterthon team “actually started doing a lot of the work for their fundraising last April,” as opposed to just a few months prior to the annual day event, Dement explained, commenting: “I also think we have a lot of very compassionate students, and because of that they create passion in their friends and colleagues on campus.”

Hatterthon raised $62,531.19, more double last year’s total.
Photo: Courtesy of Hatterthon Executive Board

The annual day event is thus the “reveal day” when the past year’s donation total is announced and awards are given to various groups, categorized by size, for both top donation amounts and top participation. 

This year’s awards include:

  • Hope Award — Hatterthon Alumni Team (top small team)
  • Healing Award — Phi Sigma Kappa (top medium team)
  • Compassion Award — Alpha Chi Omega (top large team)

A “total reveal” photo featured members of the Hatterthon Executive Board holding up giant numerical placards that reflect the $62,531.19 raised. The “FTK” placards at the end stands for “for the kids.”

“It’s so cool to see students who are not on the Hatterthon exec board and who are not our morale captains, who are just regular peers of ours playing with these ‘miracle kids’ and interacting with them,” Tovkach said. “Football player Colin Wray [who will be a sophomore quarterback next fall] was there playing with Carson; they were playing Trash Pong together, and Carson was riding around on his shoulders.

“It’s cool to see college students come together with these children, truly care about the cause, respect when the parents and families are sharing their stories, and buy in to why this cause is so important. That’s my favorite part: seeing all these kids completely loving on our peers and our peers totally loving them too.”

-Rick de Yampert