UTSA students and community join for 18-hour dance marathon against cancer

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students

UTSA students involved in FTK Dance Marathon (from top and from left): Eli Embleton, Christina Phamvu, Matthew Pompa, Tim Spohrer, Apurva Devarakonda, Ricky Elizondo Jr., Carl Myers and Lisl Ost

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(March 28, 2013) -- The UTSA student organization For the Kids (FTK) Dance Marathon will host its fourth annual 18-hour, high-energy, no-sitting, no-sleeping Dance Marathon from 7 p.m., Friday, April 5 to 1 p.m., Saturday, April 6 in the Convocation Center on the UTSA Main Campus.

The fundraiser celebrates the organization's yearlong fundraising efforts to help children with cancer and their families. The FTK Dance Marathon at UTSA raised more than $35,000 in 2012.

In partnership with high schools from across South Texas, the dance marathon will feature a group of FTK dancers who participate by standing and dancing for 18 hours while interacting and performing with the children and their families.

"FTK Dance Marathon at UTSA has an incredible team of dedicated student leaders and volunteers who work tirelessly all year long to provide comfort and support for San Antonio families struggling with childhood cancer," said Eli Embleton, a UTSA senior in classical studies and overall chair of FTK. "Being able to bring joy to these kids and their families during such a difficult time is not only incredibly rewarding, it also gives us greater perspective and motivates us to live our own lives to the fullest."

The goal of FTK is to raise awareness while providing financial and emotional support for the children and their families affected by childhood cancer. FTK fundraises year-round for the FTK Fund at the Children's Hospital of San Antonio. In addition to raising money, the FTK students regularly spend time with the children at the hospital.

"With the help of FTK, we were able to establish an emergency fund for families in financial crisis, which has been of great help," said Leanne Embry, Ph.D., psychologist and associate professor of pediatrics at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio. "The volunteers spend so much time here a the hospital and so much time with all of us. It's nice to have all these new people here with energy and new ideas that the patients can be involved in. It just gives the families hope."

Gregory Aune, Ph.D., M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio, is a strong supporter of FTK and has seen the difference it has made for his patients and their families.

"The initial goal is to provide emotional and spiritual support and eventually significant financial support to families and children battling cancer," said Aune. "I think that aspect of FTK will continue to grow over time and that was just something that was never here for our patients before."

On average, 12,500 children in the United States are diagnosed with cancer each year. Although survival rates for many childhood cancers have improved dramatically over the last few decades, cancer is still the leading cause of death by disease in children.

The FTK Dance Marathon at UTSA will feature other San Antonio groups such as the Chidren's Hospital of San Antonio hematology/oncology department staff and students from Business Careers High School, John Jay High School and four high schools from the Rio Grande Valley.

For more information, call 210-449-3524 or visit the FTK at UTSA website. Follow UTSA FTK on Facebook and Twitter @ftkdmutsa.

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Why I am "For The Kids" -- Essays from students involved in FTK UTSA

These brief essays share the compassion of UTSA students and why they devote their time, resources and energy to the For The Kids effort.

Eli Embleton, chairperson
I've gazed into the eyes of a child in need. I've seen the trembling knees of worried mothers and watched them steal a moment to sob quietly behind the corner of an empty hallway. I've seen the same mothers steel their resolve and brace themselves against waves of anxiety and uncertainty. I've witnessed exhausted doctors, nurses and support staff perform silent and unnoticed acts of heroism in the face of the daunting disease that we know as childhood cancer.

I am For The Kids because I wanted to help plant the seed of change at UTSA. In just a few years, that seed has snuggled into soil prepared by talented students who wanted to make a difference, and it has grown into a force for good. I am FTK because it is easy to give of myself and make a contribution that counts. FTK is full of possibilities to make the burdens of families battling childhood cancer just a little bit easier, and in the struggle to help them I have found that it has made me a better person.

Christina Phamvu, merchandise
I joined FTK because I wanted to meet more people and get connections within the hospital. Little did I know that I was going to get so much more out of it. I am FTK because it breaks my heart to see families torn apart during the most difficult time of their lives. Family is a big support system, which I have learned through the FTK members working together for a common cause. It brings a smile to my face when I see a child laughing and having the time of their life because of what FTK can do.

FTK provides these events to not only support the children, but to give them a chance to be a kid and not have to be in the hospital all the time. Seeing the tears of happiness from the families at the final reveal [revealing the total money raised at Dance Marathon] lets me know that I'm really making a difference in someone's life, which is something I will always cherish.

Matthew Pompa
I was at the hospital for the umpteenth time, but this time I wasn't alone. A friend happened to be with me. I was visiting my mom who was recovering after her peg tube had slipped out. She needed the tube because the radiation treatments had damaged her tongue and throat, and made it impossible for her to eat foods. She was getting better and feeling optimistic that even though the peg tube was gone she was going to be able to eat (and she has been). Usually I try to be strong for my mom at the hospital, however, since my friend was with me I guess I felt I could be vulnerable -- I had someone to lean on. We walked away, and I began to cry for what felt like the first time since the cancer had been discovered.

My friend gave me a hug, let me lean on her and even held my hand. While I would have never thought to ask this of anybody, it made a world of difference to me. I cannot imagine having a child who must go through this, but I can image how you become so concerned with the person in treatment you can forget about what you need. This is what FTK is working on doing with the families, and this is why I am FTK.

Tim Spohrer, finance
Cancer is a terrible disease for adults, and it is 100 times worse for young children. Financially, cancer is devastating, but emotionally it is heartbreaking. Cancer can destroy more than just people's bank accounts. It can destroy the single most important thing in life: their family. Whether it is death of a loved one or the immense strain put on a family from countless hours spent in the hospital, cancer emotionally devastates families.

Every college kid goes to school hoping to change the world. The students that participate in FTK do just that. We are making a difference. Through our efforts to provide emotional and financial support to families affected by childhood cancer, we provide hope to children who have none. We do this by standing by children with childhood cancer to show them that they are not alone in their fight with cancer. I am FTK for all who fight to find a cure to childhood cancer.

Apurva Devarakonda
I am lucky enough to say that I have never had beloved ones battling pediatric cancer. It did not take a personal experience for me to want to part of something so great. What kept me in FTK is incredible kids. These kids have gone through the nightmare of chemotherapy and come out with a huge smile on their face, like nothing is wrong. They are true warriors and are worth fighting for. While we may not be able to extinguish cancer, the least we can do is make it easier on the kids and their families. We can treat them as the true heroes they are and help remove as much financial pain from them as possible. I am FTK to make a difference in the life of a child.

Ricky Elizondo Jr., vice chairperson
A couple of years ago, I landed in a place many would never volunteer to go to. I was deployed to Iraq. Two weeks into my deployment I met a sweet little girl by the name of Teeba. Not only was she beautiful, her appreciation for life was unbelievable. So unbelievable that even the smallest things made a difference in her life. At one point during my deployment, I handed her a red pen because I had nothing else to offer her. I remember how her face lid up as she smiled as if she had never received a gift before. At that exact moment, I experienced a feeling I have never forgotten; an experience beyond words. It was then, when I realized that I was doing something greater than just serving my country. I was fighting for Teeba. I was fighting for her future.

During my first semester at UTSA, I heard about FTK and the incredible things it was doing. Immediately, I became a member to help such a wonderful organization. But, it wasn't until several months later when the feeling hit me again. Like the experience I had with Teeba, FTK offered the opportunity to do something greater for UTSA and the San Antonio community. It offered an opportunity to fight for a child's future. That is why I am FTK.

Carl Myers
For a long time I didn't know how to explain why I'm For the Kids. But I think it's because I have a lot of bottled up emotions regarding it. I was only a kid when my grandfather died of brain cancer. The disease changed him. I remember it like it was yesterday. He was one of the best people I knew. He lived with us until he passed away. His disease became a huge part of my life. I was only nine years old. Losing him was also the first experience I had with mortality. His passing has been with me ever since; it still seems fresh to me. I imagined these kids, some of whom are around the age I was when I lost my grandpa. They are facing this disease head on. I commend them for their heroic effort. I identify with these kids and their drive to live on. They are why I am For the Kids.

Lisl Ost, family relations
Family Relations focuses on keeping the families at the heart of FTK and ensures that they enjoy all of their FTK experiences to the fullest. We work closely with the families in our organization, as well as the Children's Hospital of San Antonio. Supporting these families in any way that we can is our main goal. Throughout the year, we keep the families and students connected to each other so that both our families and members are encouraged by each other's efforts. When I joined FTK a year ago, I was inspired by the children and families who deal with extraordinary circumstances on a daily basis. I knew as soon as I saw the children that this cause was well worth fighting for- every child deserves to have fond memories of their childhood. I am FTK because I know that if I had battled cancer when I was a child, I would have wanted to know that I was not alone.

Tim Johnson, rules and regulations
I am involved in FTK to make a difference. Throughout all of my years in college I have heard consistently from my peers that they can't wait to, "just be done with school," and "get into the real world." A lot of people don't see college as the real world, so they tend to coast through their collegiate careers while waiting for the real world to meet them at the other end. However, when I joined FTK and got to see the real changes I could make for these kids and their families, I started to see that coasting wasn't good enough and that I could infuse real change into other's lives right here and now. Therefore, "Why Am I FTK?" is to start making a difference now, rather than waiting for a chance to do so later.

Andy Linares, morale
At the age of 11, I received the most devastating news. My dad was sick. It wasn't an ordinary illness -- as I later found out -- it was cancer. Within months, my dad lost his battle to cancer due to the aggressive nature of the disease. My life was never the same. I remember praying to God to help me find a cure. Three years ago, my prayer was answered. I met a group of young, ordinary students with extraordinary hearts. These students were part of a student-led organization at UTSA that did incredible things for children battling cancer. Not only did these students fund-raise yearlong for these children and families but they also provided emotional support. Without hesitation, I joined this group on campus. I am not a doctor or some scientist in a lab finding a cure; however, I am a person who gets to bring a smile to a child by joining the fight against childhood cancer. I am FTK because with the help of our community, we can give these families hope that one day we will vanquish cancer. Until then, we will continue to believe in possibilities and keep on dancing.

Amanda Perez, communications

For The Kids is committed to challenging the status quo. We are a service-oriented organization dedicated to raising funds and awareness for the families battling childhood cancer at the Children's Hospital of San Antonio. We are one of the few registered student organization's on campus that unite the students of UTSA for one common goal. It's heartwarming for me to see the unification of our community as we come closer to standing in solidarity for 18 hours during our Dance Marathon April 5-6. The commitment our dancers share, the enthusiasm behind every Volunteer and Moraler, the smiles and laughter coming from the families we support, is what lies at the heart of DM '13. The culmination of our yearlong fundraising efforts is only a week away, but our mission will thrive for years to come. Yes, we are UTSA. But most importantly, we are For The Kids!

Jacob K. Rice, operations
There comes a time in everyone's life where they feel an itch to do something. We compulsively scratch at it, bringing a sense of relief. Some of these itches are easy to reach. Others require a bit of ingenuity. Since walking on campus my freshman year, I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself. That's when I discovered FTK. For The Kids Dance Marathon at UTSA has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life. It has given me the opportunity to be a part of something larger than myself and has allowed me to change the world around me. Through this organization I have had the chance to rediscover my childhood by spending the afternoon building paper flowers with a child at Christus and discover my future by spending my nights building an event that child will never forget. FTK has given me an opportunity to not only be a part of something bigger than me, but also help bring stability to the lives of those who don't know what tomorrow will bring.

Caitlyn Silvas
I stand For the Kids because each day makes a difference. Children truly are the future and are influenced every day by the people that they are around. FTK is here to provide assistance for families in San Antonio during their time battling pediatric cancer. Family is one of the most important things to me; and with the help of my FTK family, I am able to make an impact on families in San Antonio. The life of a child is a gift to them and their families; and the financial assistance and emotional support that we provide throughout the year allows the families to enjoy their time together and step back from the situation that they face. I am FTK because I am passionate about the future children have and the impact that they will make during their life.