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Clemson University Senior Receives 2019 Miracle Network Dance Marathon Distinguished Leadership Award

From the thousands of graduating seniors who have participated in Miracle Network Dance Marathon at the approximately 300 colleges and universities across the U.S. and Canada, twenty students were selected to receive the 2019 Miracle Network Dance Marathon Distinguished Leadership Award for making an exceptional impact within their Dance Marathon program, on their individual campus and for their local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital. To see all of this year’s recipients, click here

Hometown: Fort Mill, South Carolina

Degree(s): Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering; Minor in Business Administration

Dance Marathon Involvement: Over the course of my four years involved with Clemson Miracle at Clemson University, I have personally raised a collective total of $11,687.67 for Prisma Health Children’s Hospital-Upstate. I have served as a Morale Team Member (2015-2016), Internal Donor Relations Chair (2016-2017), and Executive Director for two years (2017-2018, 2018-2019).

Campus/Community Involvement: Sigma Kappa Sorority, Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society, Mortar Board Honor Society Executive Board Member, General Engineering Teaching Assistant, Order of Omega

Awards/Recognition: 2019 Almeda R. Jacks Outstanding Undergraduate Student Award; 2019 Phi Kappa Phi Certificate of Merit Award for the College of Engineering; Clemson Miracle received Clemson Campus Life Undergraduate Student Organization of the Year during both of my terms as Executive Director (2018, 2019)

Post-Graduation Plans: I will be moving to Charleston, SC to start my career as an Industrial Engineer with Boeing.

Why do you, personally, participate in Dance Marathon?

Morgan and her sister Jenna.

I participate in Dance Marathon in memory of my sister, Jenna Witherspoon. In 2004, Jenna was diagnosed with Ependymoma and admitted to our local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital in Charlotte, NC. For 2.5 years, our family was in and out of the hospital as she went through chemo and numerous surgeries. While a hospital can be a scary place, thanks to things funded by CMN Hospitals like Child Life, playrooms, and arts and crafts, the hospital was not a scary place for my sister or me as the younger sibling. We were able to continue being kids even though she was in a hospital, and I’ll forever be grateful for those memories and the people who made them possible. Sadly, Jenna lost her battle on December 27th, 2006. Because of all the great support we received during her illness, my family and friends began to give back to the hospital, naming a room in her memory. We have continued supporting the hospital through various events to keep her memory alive. Coming into college, I knew I wanted to continue giving back to CMN Hospitals and sought out our Dance Marathon program. I participate to honor my sister, but also to ensure that every family has the chance for the best care and experience possible. No family deserves to experience life in a hospital, but if they do the kids deserve to have the chances to feel like a normal kid through things like Child Life, playrooms, and toys. I participate to ensure that every kid gets the chance to be a kid and make memories that will last a lifetime.

Morgan and Jenna with Child Life Specialists during Jenna’s treatment.

How has Dance Marathon impacted you as a student leader? What specific skills have you developed during your involvement?

Dance Marathon has made me into the person I am and truly shaped my leadership skills. If you would have told me at the start of freshman year that I would speak to over 500 people at Dance Marathon multiple times and lead an internal team of 150 members for 2 years I would have told you that you were crazy. Dance Marathon has helped me receive internships and even my full-time job thanks to the skills that I have learned. Two of the biggest skills I developed were conflict management and coordinating large groups to work together. A big part of being Executive Director was ensuring that all the respective positions were working together and communicating well. Thanks to this position, I was able to learn how to properly handle conflict-resolution and how to communicate with a large group to get everyone on the same page towards a unified goal. I also gained more experience in problem solving as I had to work on the fly during events to change fundraising plans, scheduled activities, and our message to ensure that we were doing what was best to get to our goal. Along with that came skills in flexibility. Before Dance Marathon, I was very much the person that had a plan and had to stick to it, but Dance Marathon taught me to expect the unexpected and be prepared to completely change a plan and keep moving forward. I could go on and on about all the skills that I developed during my time with Clemson Miracle. One of my biggest pieces of advice that I give people is to get involved with something like Dance Marathon because you gain so many skills and experiences that no class or project can ever teach you. I truly believe that my Dance Marathon experience and the skills I learned from it helped me stand out from other job applicants and get my post-grad job.

Morgan Speaking at Clemson Miracle’s 2019 Dance Marathon Event.

What personal accomplishment/contribution are you most proud of from your involvement in Dance Marathon?

While raising over $600,000 as an organization and $11,000 personally during my 4 years of involvement is an amazing accomplishment, by biggest accomplishment has nothing to do with the money we raised. My biggest accomplishment is setting up Clemson Miracle to be sustainable throughout the years and preparing it to do great things in the future. By being Executive Director for a second year, I was able to help execute the complete restructure of our executive board to better fit our needs as an organization and to better match our campus culture. Our new structure allows positions to be more well defined and meet the needs of our reach onto campus. Before my time as executive director, we also had no tracking system and no strategic plan of how we would hit our goals. Now, we have a week by week tracking document which keeps up with our progress and lets us know when we’re behind compared to previous years’ data. These two changes have allowed our program to be prepared for sustainable growth which will help the organization as it continues to hit larger totals and increase in membership each year.

How have you seen your Dance Marathon’s fundraising make an impact at your local CMN Hospital?

Throughout my four years with Clemson Miracle, I have seen our funds at work in various areas of Prisma Health Upstate Children’s Hospital. In 2017 we were able to fund 80 NICU web cameras which allow parents to log in to a secure website and check in on their baby when they are not able to be at the hospital. In 2018, we funded the renovation of the healing garden at the hospital which just had its official ribbon cutting this spring. The renovation updated the garden to make it more child friendly and accessible for all patients making it an inviting space for patients and their families to escape the four walls of the hospital room and get fresh air. In 2018 we also started the Clemson Miracle Camp Endowment which supports 4 summer camps put on by the hospital. These are camps staffed by doctors and nurses that patients can attend to get the normal summer camp experience while not having to worry about their medical needs as doctors and nurses are there to provide any medication or care needed. We continued to build this endowment in 2019 along with starting the Canine F.E.T.C.H. Unit Endowment which helps cover the costs of the 5 facility dogs that work throughout the hospital to provide support and comfort to the patients. The facility dogs can be with patients through procedures, therapies, and more to help encourage them and support their healing process. It has been amazing to see our funding go to so many areas of the hospital and be able to impact kids of all ages and illnesses. All the programs we have supported would only have been possible through philanthropic support, so it is great to know that we have truly made a lasting impact on the hospital and the kids treated there.

Healing Garden Ribbon Cutting Ceremony.
One of the dogs from the Canine Fetch Unit.

Why should students get involved with Miracle Network Dance Marathon on their campus?

Students should get involved with Miracle Network Dance Marathon to be a part of something bigger than themselves while also gaining skills that will transfer into the workforce. Being a part of MNDM allows you to grow in your leadership, teamwork, and communication skills all while doing something for your local hospital. The joy that you feel at the end of a Dance Marathon after hearing stories about your impact all day and then seeing the total raised is indescribable but something that everyone deserves to experience. MNDM allows you to take a step out of that college life bubble and truly make a lasting impact in your community.

Morgan with Miracle Kid Margaret.
Morgan and Rob Helbock with Jenna Bush Hager at the 2017 Miracle Network Dance Marathon Leadership Conference.
The 2018-2019 Clemson Miracle Executive Board at DMLC 2018.
Morgan and her parents, Mike and Tricia.

Miracle Network Dance Marathon is an international movement, involving over 400 colleges, universities and K-12 schools across North America that fundraise for their local Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. Since its inception in 1991, Miracle Network Dance Marathon has raised more than $250 million–ensuring that no child or family fights pediatric illness or injury alone.

Learn more about Miracle Network Dance Marathon:

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