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University of Illinois 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: Chicago, Illinois

Degree(s): Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Neuroscience; Minor in Integrative Biology

Dance Marathon Involvement: During my four years of involvement with Illinithon at the University of Illinois, I have personally fundraised a total of over $16,000 for HSHS St. John’s Children’s Hospital and have served as a member of the recruitment committee (2015-16), the Director of Morale (2016-17), Vice President External (2017-18), and President (2018-19).

Campus/Community Involvement: Vice President of external events for Delta Upsilon fraternity; DOLCOS lab for SCoPE neuroscience research assistant; University of Illinois Alumni Alliance Board member; Express campus brand ambassador

Awards/Recognition: University of Illinois Senior 100 Honorary; University of Illinois Office of Volunteer Programs Service Project Director of the Year Award

Post-Graduation Plans: I will be starting as an associate consultant at Clarity Insights, a consulting firm in Chicago, IL.

 

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

When I entered the University of Illinois as a freshman in 2015, IlliniThon was an organization no one on campus really knew about. I told my friends that I was going to be on the leadership team for IlliniThon and they told me that they didn’t know I ran marathons. When I told them it was a dance marathon, they told me they didn’t know I danced. The awareness on the University of Illinois campus about pediatric illness and what we could do to help end it was nowhere near where it should have been, and I knew I could change that. From my very first day being involved in IlliniThon I have worked hard to stress the importance of spreading awareness for IlliniThon and our local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital, HSHS St. John’s Children’s Hospital. I have held this mission close in each role that I have served within IlliniThon. From serving on the recruitment committee and going to different student groups to share our mission, all the way to serving as President and leading our all member meetings with the message that children’s hospitals need donations and that we have the voice and the power to make miracles happen, building awareness has been the largest goal I have worked on in my four years. When I first became involved with IlliniThon, we were just like any other student group on campus. However, through four years of hard work with some incredible teams, we are now the largest student run organization on campus, the largest philanthropy on campus, and one of the top three student organizations recognized by the University of Illinois. What began as people thinking I run marathons has turned into strangers on campus asking me if I’m the “IlliniThon guy” and wondering how they can become involved. What was once me and a handful of others shouting “For The Kids!” on the quad has turned into hundreds of students each day walking around with “For The Kids” pins and merchandise. Awareness and involvement have increased year after year because of the hard work we have put in. I know that I’m leaving this organization far better than I found it, and for that I will always be proud.

Why do you, personally, participate in Dance Marathon?

I originally became involved with dance marathon on a complete whim. I was walking to class when I was stopped by a stranger insisting I had to learn more about dance marathon. I spoke with her and found out it was an opportunity for me to get involved and help our local children’s hospital and immediately knew I wanted to get involved. I initially got involved because I thought it would be a fun way to give back, help others, and boost my resume. I decided to stay after our first all leadership meeting. The meeting started with everyone dancing wild to the harlem shake, we talked about our goals and plans for the year, and we watched a miracle child’s story. I couldn’t believe how much I had changed in that one thirty-minute meeting. A quote I have always loved was once said by Maya Angelou. She wrote, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” In my first ever dance marathon meeting, we did the harlem shake and listened to a miracle family speak, but more importantly, I felt that I was a part of something bigger than myself. I was no longer just a student at the University of Illinois, I was a member of one generation fighting for the next. Dance marathon made me feel that I was a part of something and that I could use that to make a difference for kids in my community. As I became more and more involved with IlliniThon, I felt more and more of that impact being made on my state, my campus, and myself. During the closing ceremony for the 2018-19 IlliniThon, after a year of serving as the President with many highs and lows, our miracle kid Peyton asked to sign my shoe, and the feeling had never been stronger. After an exhausting Big Event and year, Peyton reminded me why we do what we do: because every kid deserves to find that feeling, and dance marathon helps to give every kid that chance.

Luke with Miracle Kid, Peyton.

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

The day I was able to go to my local Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals was one of the best days of my life. To be able to see the direct impact of our fundraising on the hospital was an incredible way to see first-hand that our work matters. From state of the art medical equipment, to meals for families, to even just toys for kids to feel like kids, the way that the Children’s Miracle Network can take a scary hospital visit and turn it into a positive experience for the kids and their families is an absolute miracle and I am so proud that our fundraising was able to contribute. From being on the executive board for three years, I had many visits to the hospital. I was able to see how as we fundraised more and more each year, the hospital was able to do more and more for the kids of Illinois. Nothing motivated me more than seeing the changes made to the hospital each year that came directly from our fundraising. However, I knew that I was very lucky to have such a unique perspective. As President this past year, I wanted to extend that sense of pride to everyone in IlliniThon. We worked with our hospital to organize our spring push day centered around the recent NICU renovations and challenged our miracle makers to fully fund a NICU room in one day. We pushed hard so that every kid could one day become an Illini, and united our campus to not only fund one NICU room, but two. To see how our campus responded to the direct impact on our hospital from their fundraising is an experience unlike any other and one that I will never forget.

Luke at HSHS St. John’s Children’s Hospital in Springfield, Illinois.

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

Dance Marathon has changed my life in countless ways and taught me a million lessons. I have learned morale chants, family stories, and everything in between. Yet, I believe the most long-lasting impact from this incredible experience, was learning how to be an effective leader. From effective communication skills being the head of an organization comprised of over 1,300 students, to professionalism working with key partners both nationally and locally to secure over $26,000 in corporate partnerships, to crisis management figuring out everything that changed last minute or kept us on our toes all year long. I have learned how to listen, engage, and unite others like a true dance marathon leader.

Luke on state with a Miracle Kid at Illinithon’s 2019 Dance Marathon event.

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

I always say that the funny thing about dance marathon is that the whole time you think you’re changing kid’s lives, when really at the end of the day, they’re changing yours. Dance marathon is an incredible, miracle making organization all across the country. But dance marathon is so much more than that because it means so many different things to so many different types of people. To some, dance marathon is the reason they have their best friends. To others, dance marathon is the reason they grew throughout college. To many, dance marathon is the reason they are alive today. Yet to all, dance marathon has always been and forever will be a home to everyone. It is an organization which welcomes and unites us all as one generation fighting for the next. It is an organization which through service and leadership, helps us to pave the path for others while figuring out or own. Mark Twain once said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” I thank dance marathon for helping myself and thousands of others to find that why.


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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