The story of UDance and how it raises millions for the fight against childhood cancer

Executive Editor

This article will be published in The Review’s special magazine issue, set to be available on campus starting the week of April 24. 

On nearly any given day, I can walk down Main Street and see students in fluorescent vests collecting donations in cans or take a quick scroll through my Instagram story feed and see digital bingo boards for various single-digit donations. All of the money earned through these ventures goes to the UDance Dance Marathon, which has grown to become one of the largest events on the university’s campus. 

Many university students, those who have canvassed both with their registered student organizations (RSOs) and individually, come together on a Saturday in late April to dance, watch live performances, listen to guest speakers for 12 hours and celebrate the total for the fundraising efforts of the previous academic year. 

In the 16 years since UDance’s inception, it has grown in size to become the fifth-largest dance marathon in the country.

UDance has been a staple on the university’s campus since 2007 when the sorority Alpha Epsilon Phi and fraternity Sigma Phi Epsilon joined forces to raise money for childhood cancer. Although the first UDance only raised $8,000 and took place in a multipurpose room (MPR) in Trabant Student Center, this did not discourage the founding members.

“They had big hopes and it honestly ended up they had to reduce the size of the MPR to make the room feel bigger because the word just hadn’t gotten out there,” Adam Bungarden, senior at the university and co-executive director of UDance, says. “But it was the first year and everyone has to start somewhere.”

In 2009, the Andrew McDonough B+ Foundation partnered with UDance and has since been the beneficiary of the money raised through these months-long fundraising efforts. The foundation was formed in memory of Andrew McDonough, a 14-year-old from Wilmington who lost his battle with acute myeloid leukemia on ​​July 14, 2007. 

“Our goal always is to benefit [the Andrew McDonough B+ Foundation], and to help them fight childhood cancer and that all the money that is raised goes directly to helping these families,” Abby Rindfleish, sophomore at the university and media engagement and website chair of UDance, says about UDance’s purposes in partnership with the B+ Foundation.

The B+ Foundation also established the B+ Hero Program to celebrate children and their families who have fought or are fighting cancer. On the university’s campus, RSOs “adopt” their own B+ Hero that they honor and involve in different events throughout the year leading up to UDance. 

“Through the B+ Hero program we’re paired with, we have 34 B+ Heroes on campus,” Rindfleish says. “So we’re always thinking of them at the forefront of our fight. For all the students that are paired with our organization at UDance, we are always making them feel special with them and their siblings hosting events.”

UDance 2015, courtesy of UDance Dance Marathon.

Although last year’s UDance raised over $1.8 million, a significant jump from the philanthropy’s start 15 years prior, keeping the marathon afloat in recent years has not proved to be a feat without obstacles, according to Rindfleish. 

“Obviously, with the pandemic and 2020, our event had gotten, I believe, pretty much canceled,” Rindfleish says.

According to Rindfleish, the following year did not exhibit a return to total pre-pandemic normalcy for the dance marathon. The UDance marathon of 2021 operated under a hybrid model that included a plethora of Zoom meetings with some in-person events that emphasized the usage of masks and social distancing.

“We were so excited last year to move back to the Bob Carpenter Center and return to a fully in-person event and kickoff getting students involved again and clubs on campus getting re-engaged,” Rindfleish says of UDance 2022. “With our program, it was so exciting to see everyone in person.”

Bungarden echoes Rindfleish’s sentiments and describes the necessity of continuing to enrich UDance’s involvement on campus and the upward movements the organization saw for many years.

“We are fully cementing ourselves back into an in-person setting by having the opportunity to continue to share what UDance is and continuing to reinvest ourselves into the entire student body,” Bungarden says. “We also want to get the incoming students to be that engine and continue to get UDance back to continuing the trend that we saw before the pandemic and just continuing to grow and evolve in that sense.”

I was curious as to what other revenue streams existed for the philanthropy, as I assumed students standing outside with aluminum cans collecting low-denomination bills did not account for all of the millions of dollars that have been raised in recent years. Bungarden confirms my assumptions. 

“We have the canning push all year round and that is a large portion of our proceeds,” Bungarden says. “We do also have various corporate sponsors who donate at different sponsorship levels. Then a majority of our donations are from email outreach to different sponsors. And we do have some smaller outreach like social media, we have a lot of Venmo donations through the B+ Foundation.”

I also inquire about how the involvement and impact of UDance on the university, Newark and Delaware communities alike have evolved over the last decade and a half. 

“Just speaking on last year, we raised $1.8 million, had over 6,000 participants on campus and now [host the event] in the Bob Carpenter Center,” Bungarden says. “And since 2007, we’ve raised over $16 million and have really turned [UDance] into a campus and community-wide event that is not only a beacon of hope but also just a celebration of the year-long efforts and the families that we’re so lucky to support.”

UDance 2018, courtesy of UDance Dance Marathon.

Most students on campus do not see the behind-the-scenes work that goes into the end-of-year event. I ask Bungarden to give an overview of what the planning process looks like from the beginning. He details that almost immediately after UDance 2022, the planning for UDance 2023 began. Bungarden and his co-executive director, Caroline Stevenson, were appointed to their positions by the previous year’s executive board just a few weeks after the 2022 event.

“The following week, we opened up applications,” Bungarden says. “The week after that, we had interviews and before we left for summer vacation, the new executive board was picked and we had the old board help transition the new board.”

Bungarden explains that the bulk of the planning takes place via Zoom meetings over the summer in order to ensure that the executive board can hit the ground running once the fall semester rolls around.

“When we get back to campus, we really get to start executing the plans, having our events, having in-person meetings, things of that nature,” Bungarden says. “It fully is a year-to-year operation that we get to start. We get to celebrate our success of one dance marathon and then the fight against childhood cancer never stops, and we pick right back up after that.”

The year-round planning effort of UDance requires leaders like Bungarden and Rindfleish to put in numerous hours over the course of their terms.

Rindfleish touches on the most rewarding aspect of her role within the organization and UDance as a whole.

“My favorite part is just getting to meet the families that we help in person and meeting those B+ Heroes, not just the day of, but throughout the year,” Rindfleish says. “We invite them to events on campus so getting to see them at those events on a smaller scale and meet their families and their siblings is so rewarding.”

Bungarden describes that to him, UDance is all about the “why?”: from why you get involved to why you stay. He goes on to mention that these answers are often ever-evolving.

“For me, it’s about the community getting to be a part of something that’s bigger than yourself and also getting to see it come together,” Bungarden says. “[UDance] also shows the power of college students and that we truly do have the opportunity to make a tangible difference.”

Originally posted 2023-04-21 15:00:00.