OXFORD, Miss. – The annual RebelTHON charity fundraiser celebrated hope and generated more of the same for ailing children by exceeding the $150,000 goal set for the dance marathon.
After last year’s event almost doubled its goal to raise $60,000, RebelTHON organizers set the bar high this year with a goal of $150,000. When the final tally came in around 3 a.m. Sunday (Feb. 19), participants had eclipsed that mark, bringing in $172,169.22 for the Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital at the UM Medical Center.
“It was always the expectation to not only meet our goal, but to surpass it,” said Charlie Walker, a UM senior from Carmel, Indiana, and 2016-17 development director for RebelTHON. “It was a really awesome feeling to know that we did exactly what we set out to do for the kids.”
Ole Miss students danced nonstop for 12 hours beginning at 3 p.m. Saturday (Feb 18) at the Turner Center. During each hour, students listened as families shared their stories and experiences from Batson.
The visiting children danced and played games with the students throughout the night. Members of the Ole Miss football, baseball, basketball and track and field teams, plus cheerleading and Rebelette squads came out to spend time with the children, walking them down the runway for a surprise fashion show, posing for photos and signing autographs for the families.
Ken and Brittney Bullock, of Pearl, attended RebelTHON for the first time with their son Colton, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at 3 years old.
“Batson means the world to us because it was right there in our backyard, and we didn’t even really know it was there,” Ken Bullock said. “We have a jewel right here in Jackson, and the money being raised is awesome.”
This year, part of the money raised at RebelTHON is going to the renovation of the Children’s Cancer Clinic at Batson Hospital. The center has not been updated since the 1990s.
“So Batson is about to expand and it’s going to get a new cancer clinic,” Ken Bullock said. “It’s awesome that part of this money is going straight to that. It’s so great that these students danced the night away and raised that money for Batson. It is truly a blessing.”
Angela Cook and daughter Analiese, both of Brookhaven, also were first-time RebelTHON participants. At age 3, Analiese was diagnosed with high-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia at Batson.
“You see this hospital and you hear all of the wonderful things, but until you are actually a part of it and you feel it, you can never really understand the magnitude of it and the effect that it has on this community and this place,” Angela Cook said. “That is why RebelTHON is so important in celebrating because this money goes straight to the kids, and these kids fight and fight hard and fight for their lives, and it’s the least we can do to give them the chance to fight.”
Brandi Mead, of Madison, attended RebelTHON for the second year with daughter Sydney, who was born with a rare genetic disease called Williams syndrome and had heart surgery only days after birth.
“We are so thankful for Batson and so blessed to be 10 minutes away from it because we have had many ER visits, and it is so great to know that we can get in the car, drive to Batson and be with all of her doctors,” Brandi Mead said.
At the beginning of the dance marathon, the children were introduced one by one and ran down a red carpet to the stage. RebelTHON is one of few dance marathons that brings children and their families to the events, said Andrew Russell, Children’s Miracle Network coordinator.
“I think RebelTHON is our most unique event, and it’s one of our cooler events for our patients,” Russell said. “These students literally roll out the red carpet for these kids.
“The money raised goes to a good cause, but the way they make these kids actually come to the event is so special. We are so appreciative of the students and we know they work hard throughout the year.”
The unique nature of RebelTHON makes it fun for participants, said Walker, who has been involved in the event every year at Ole Miss and has participated in similar dance marathons since middle school.
“The really cool thing about this organization is that it is unlike any other thing on this campus,” he said. “The ability to be so close to the cause, to see actually where your money is going and see and be a part of the difference you’re making is unprecedented to any other organization I have ever been a part of.”
“We work really hard all year putting on events, and it all culminates in this one night where we get to stand on our feet for 12 hours for kids who can’t stand for themselves. We are legitimately making a difference in the lives of these children and their families who really need it at Batson.”