Hatterthon: Despite The Pandemic, Miracle Workers Win Again

As Hatterthon, Stetson’s annual student-led benefit for Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, wound down its Hats on Challenge fundraising event on Feb. 2, Hatterthon Executive Director Jake Sadoway confesses he was “definitely super nervous.”

The goal was to raise $10,861.17 in 26.2 hours, “symbolic of a marathon’s distance,” explained Lizzie Dement, Hatterthon’s adviser and assistant director for Student Development and Campus Vibrancy. That goal was chosen because Hatterthon, now in its fifth year, raised that amount during its entire first year, she said.

The goal was lapped.

Hatterthon Executive Director Jake Sadoway
Photo: Tara Tovkach

According to Sadoway, Dement and Matt Garizio, Hatterthon’s adviser from the Arnold Palmer Hospital, “were tracking the numbers, and six hours before the end they blocked access for the Hatterthon internal team because they wanted it to be a surprise for us. So, we just kept pushing and pushing.”

When the final tally — $13,026.21 — was revealed, “I was in shock because I knew it was going to be a really hard challenge just to hit the $10,000 mark,” Sadoway added. “The fact that we got over $13,000 is mindboggling.”

While Hatterthon, with its 48-member internal team and its 300 registered participants known as “Miracle Makers,” raise funds throughout the year, the Hats on Challenge is the biggest fundraising effort. Due to the pandemic, the effort, for the first time ever, was a virtual one. 

“My management team and I have been working since last March, since the very start of the pandemic,” Sadoway noted. “In the fall semester we did a lot of trials, testing to see what would work on campus, what would work virtually. That really helped us learn a lot to take into our Hats on Challenge.”

Unlike in 2019, this year’s Hatterthon was virtual — but with success that exceeded its goal.

Hatterthon’s first Hats on Challenge was held during the 2019 Fall Semester and utilized in-person activities, which were boosted by social media messaging, to raise more than $8,000. The pandemic led the Hatterthon team to delay this year’s challenge to February.

“We provided a lot of resources to our Miracle Makers,” said Sadoway. “Our team worked really hard to put resources together, so we had a Google Drive folder and it had fundraising templates, like graphics people could send to their friends and post onto their Instagram and other social media.

“Also, this year we were fortunate to get a partnership with Disney, so we got a bunch of Disney tickets to use as incentives to give away to people for fundraising.”

Hatterthon typically climaxes with an annual 10-hour event that organizers bill as a “celebration” as much as a fundraiser. 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, the Orlando Arnold Palmer facility.

“It’s a ton of logistics and everything is crazy with that, but we are working hard to put on an awesome, interactive fundraising event on March 20, and that is where we will reveal how much money we’ve been able to raise over the last 12 months.”

Hatterthon Executive Director Jake Sadoway

Last year, Hatterthon held its concluding event in February at Rinker Fieldhouse, where student attendees periodically line-danced to modern pop hits and engaged with “Miracle Families” — parents and their children — invited to the occasion. The families took the stage to share their stories of how they had benefitted from the services of the Palmer hospital, and to express their gratitude for the fundraising efforts of the students. Organizers revealed at the end of the event that Hatterthon had raised a record $84,407.20 during the previous year.

This year’s concluding event will be on March 20, and will be a hybrid in-person and virtual event.

“It’s a ton of logistics and everything is crazy with that, but we are working hard to put on an awesome, interactive fundraising event on March 20, and that is where we will reveal how much money we’ve been able to raise over the last 12 months,” Sadoway said. 

Tentative plans include having activities on a stage and at different “pods” on Stetson Green, while “obviously keeping very strict COVID restrictions, especially given our cause, and being extra cautious about everything. We will have opportunities for different groups of students to come and get a similar experience that we try to have every year — just facilitate it in a much different way.”

Supplemental virtual activities will serve people who aren’t able to be on campus, who might not be comfortable coming to an event in-person, and who even attend in-person, Sadoway said.

As for the Miracle Families who typically are the stars of the event, Sadoway commented that “unfortunately they won’t be able to visit our campus. But we have been doing different events and incorporating them, and there will be a plethora of opportunities for people to jump on Zoom calls.” 

“A few teams have already won the opportunity to have a virtual lunch with our Miracle Families and families who have been served at the hospital,” Sadoway concluded. “We’re working hard to incorporate them, but just in a much different way than it usually has been done.”

-Rick de Yampert