Allegheny Up ’til Dawn exceeds fundraising goal for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

By moonrise Nov. 1, at 12:47 a.m., teams of fundraisers for the annual St. Jude Up ’til Dawn at Allegheny College had raised $32,801 — almost 94 percent of its $35,000 goal.  

By Friday, Nov. 2, Allegheny had surpassed its $35,000 goal, and at press time, had raised $37,371 for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.

The Hospital opened on Feb. 4, 1962, in Memphis, Tennessee, after comedian and entertainer Danny Thomas committed to creating a hospital that would care for children no matter their race, family background, beliefs or ability to pay for treatment, according to the St. Jude website.

At its inception, St. Jude was one of the first integrated hospitals in the southern United States, according to its website, where black children and white children were treated together. Since the 1960s, St. Jude has become a long-term care facility for pediatric patients with critical diagnoses, as well as a renowned research institution that studies cancers and other diseases.

“It gives families hope when they need it the most,” Allie Pope, ’19, said of St. Jude.

Pope serves as the events and logistics director for Allegheny Up ’til Dawn, a national program in which college students commit to months of fundraising each year for St. Jude. The fundraising culminates in the Up ’til Dawn event, a celebration of the fundraising — and hopefully, a goal that has been reached.

Fundraisers can register as early as June each year, according to Kala Mahen, ’19, executive director of Allegheny Up ’til Dawn. Teams of fundraisers then set goals that contribute to the overall total, and Mahen said over 250 people registered to raise money this year.

Ellis Giacomelli
Teams of students cheer as Allegheny Up ’til Dawn organizers judge their pumpkins at the annual Up ,’til Dawn fundraising celebration Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in the David V. Wise Center. The teams were given 25 minutes to paint pumpkins and were instructed to keep the event’s themes in mind: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Halloween and Coney Island. Pumpkin painting kicked off five hours of activities for the fundraisers, who have spent months raising money for St. Jude.

Last year, the college’s goal was $30,000, and Mahen said she hopes to see that goal continue to increase.

“We’ve had a continuous gain of funds raised in the past couple of years, and I hope to see that number be $40,000 next year,” she said. “Our small campus community really comes together, and it’s amazing to see.”

Up ’til Dawn leaders began setting up for the celebration around 4:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2. They organized tables and games, hooked up a sound system and hung St. Jude banners in the David V. Wise Center Blue Courts.

Students who fundraised slowly trickled into the Wise Center at 10 p.m. and stopped at a table to sign in and pick up T-shirts. By 10:45, the first blue court was alive with students representing all class years, several sports teams, clubs and different team fundraising goals.

Once most teams had filed onto the first blue court, Mahen made some opening remarks. As the executive director of Allegheny Up ’til Dawn, Mahen oversees the organization and its other directors and committees, which coordinate events and logistics, public relations, fundraising and recruitment.

Pope said the combined efforts of the Up ’til Dawn organizers make the evening possible, an evening with a spooky Coney Island theme this year. Carnival games, Halloween-inspired relay races, a guest hypnotist and amusement park cuisine gave the fundraisers an opportunity to “stay up for good,” which is St. Jude’s mantra for the event.

Following her remarks, Mahen played a video clip with a message from St. Jude and reminded participants of the mission of St. Jude and Up ’til Dawn.

“Some of these kids are in the hospital 12 months out of the year, so tonight, we stay up in honor of them, in honor of their families who have stayed up countless nights wondering if their children were going to make it to see the next day,” Mahen said. “As we have a great time tonight, we really need to think about our mission, and why we raised all of this money.”

Sitting on the court together, the participants applauded as they listened to Mahen finish her remarks. Then the scheduled activities began and lasted until around 3 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 3.

Teams had 25 minutes to paint a message on a pumpkin, a message that needed to incorporate St. Jude, Halloween or Coney Island, or some combination of the three. Organizers of the evening judged the pumpkins before quickly ushering teams to the fourth blue court where they completed their second activity — a relay race.

Teams designated one team member as a mummy, who was wrapped in one whole roll of toilet paper and left lying on the ground while other team members continued the race. The final part of the race involved running to the lower floor of the Wise Center, onto the main court, through a complicated web of strings that spanned the entire width of the gymnasium, and back upstairs to the blue court to awaken the mummies.

Some of these kids are in the hospital 12 months out of the year, so tonight, we stay up in honor of them, in honor of their families who have stayed up countless nights wondering if their children were going to make it to see the next day.

— Kala Mahen, Class of 2019

After the excitement, teams were led back to the first blue court for pizza, refreshments and a quick break before racing again — this time hopping across the third blue court in burlap sacks.

As teams settled down from the races, Jason Christopher, a comedy hypnotist, was just getting set up. Time check: 1 a.m.

Christopher invited student volunteers to sit in chairs and created scenarios in which the volunteers participated. He created one scenario in which he described the volunteers as musicians for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. He told the volunteers to choose an instrument and imagine they were playing it in the orchestra.

When he said “play,” the volunteers began playing imaginary instruments, and when he said “play faster” or “play slower,” volunteers responded accordingly.

Fundraising Director Lizzie Schumacher, ’20, was a volunteer for Christopher and said she felt “pretty conscious the whole time.”

“There was something in me that wanted to do what he said,” Schumacher said. “It was weird because I didn’t forget anything … I remember everything, but I wanted to do what he was saying.”

Christopher’s show brought Up ’til Dawn to about 2:15 a.m., and the event began to wind down.

Carafes of coffee sat in the Wise Center lobby as vents gently blew the St. Jude banners that hung from the upper floor track. Among the banners were 26 smaller signs displaying the ABCs of Cancer. The concept is a tradition brought to life at St. Jude in Memphis, and Schumacher said each sign represents a letter of the alphabet and stands for a word or phrase kids from the hospital create.    

“We’re mimicking that at our event, via sponsors,” Schumacher said. “Somebody would pay $100, they get a letter and we would display it here.”

The first sign read “A is for Alive.”

Events throughout the fall semester and contributions like the ABCs of Cancer, according to Pope, can make a big difference in terms of the overall fundraising goal.

The Sept. 25 and 26 national recruitment days helped maintain fundraising momentum, and the Oct. 22 two-hour jailbreak event in the Henderson Campus Center lobby raised $1,500. People could donate money to “bail” Allegheny President James Mullen and Brooks Greeter Yvonne Longstreth out of a makeshift jail, Pope said.

Pope and Mahen had the opportunity to visit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital this summer, and Mahen said the experience was “hard to describe.”

Mahen recalled hearing from a young girl, about 10 years old, during their visit. She said the child’s right leg had been amputated after a form of leukemia had affected her bone marrow.

Sitting on a stage with her mother, the girl sported a prosthetic leg, decorated with flamingos. Mahen remembered the girl explaining that “Flamingos are like me: They stand on one leg.”

“These little kids have to go through so much at such a young age, and they have such a positive outlook on everything,” Mahen said. “I feel like we can learn so much from them.”