Community Connect
Office of the Vice President for Community Services

Honors College

Dance to Heal

By Carolina Canizales

UTSA students dance at the annual FTK Dance Marathon. Photo courtesy of For the Kids

UTSA students dance at the annual FTK Dance Marathon. Photo courtesy of For the Kids

UTSA students dance for 12 straight hours every year in an effort to cure cancer. Legs are about to give out, tingly cramp sensations hit ankles and knees, but then the sight of the children all around the dancers shake off the exhaustion and everybody keeps moving.

This is the warrior spirit that electrifies hundreds of students, children and their families at the annual For the Kids Dance Marathon at UTSA.

A marathon that fights pediatric cancer and raises funds for the families that need basic necessities to make their lives simpler.

For the Kids started in 2009 as a leadership initiative effort in the UTSA Honors College, and it is now the largest student-led nonprofit in San Antonio. Year after year, students have strategized, planned and partnered with key supporters to make this annual event a huge success. It is a jumbo size marathon team: 25 board members, five directors, 20 committee chairs, and two faculty advisers. All student positions average 20 hours a week of volunteering, and nobody is paid.

“We have the most passionate team," said Ghada Ghannam, former FTK executive director. "We fundraise every day even after being told ‘no’ a million times, we just know we have to keep going because there are families struggling.”

The marathon is a high dose of positivity for the kids and families. The entire UTSA community shows up for their cause, and the kids enjoy an entire day out of the hospital.

“The smiles on their faces show the impact we make on real families in real-time,” said Ghannam.

This impact is reciprocal for students; Being part of FTK allows them to develop a commitment to civic engagement and grow in selfless compassion.

Aside from the big April marathon, FTK conducts an annual Zumbathon and fashion show in the fall. They help the children feel like superstars—the lights, the arms being thrown in the air, and the ovation from the crowds are spirit-lifters for everybody.

In the 2015-2016 academic year, FTK helped 117 families city wide.

“I really enjoyed being the director of family relations last year," said Lial Baki, incoming executive director for this next academic year. "It was emotional, heartwarming and eye opening.”

The group's sparkle is contagious to younger generations. In 2016, the South Texas Independent School District in Mercedes, Texas, a strong partner of the organization, realized their own dance marathon and contributed $5,940 to the cause. On average, the organization works with 10 partners to conduct the annual events. Its goal is to encourage other events in more school districts and community agencies.

There is a university-wide pride around the success of FTK, and its rigorous commitment to defeat pediatric cancer. The life-changing experiences keep everybody dancing.

“Once we had a child on his death bed with siblings living on the other side of town, and there was no money to keep driving to do hospital visits," said Ghannam. "We provided funds for the family to have a proper farewell. Another time we paid flights to California for a child to get treatment. These are the stories that make it all worth it.”