OMAHA – Over the last two-and-a-half years, Amy Forsythe and her seven-year-old daughter Payton have spent a lot of time at Omaha’s Children’s Hospital and Medical Center.
Payton has aplastic anemia, a blood disorder. While the frequency of Payton’s appointments has varied since her diagnosis, Forsythe says it’s safe to call her family frequent fliers. Because they’re at Children’s so often, Payton and her twin brother Parker know every inch of the hospital.
“They rule the place,” Forsythe said. “They know where they’re going, where the coffee shop is to get hot chocolate, how to get to the cafeteria and where they can get prizes, the whole thing.”
The University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) staff member says the warm and friendly environment makes visits much easier.
“They’ve made it such a happy place, which is weird to say in terms of a hospital.”
Children’s is full of colorful murals, fun furniture and games. Kids even get to choose the color of their exam room.
“It gives them some comfort and some say-so,” Forsythe said. “If I were a little person and had to walk into a room that was white and sterile, you know, I’m intimidated by that now as an adult.”
Forsythe’s family is one of eight who will be sharing stories of their experience with Children’s during UNO’s first Dance Marathon. Student organizer Nick Rieschl, a senior at UNO, says the families are a vital part of the charity event.
“It’s the coolest thing, because it’s 12 hours that we’re on our feet and dancing just to raise awareness and raise money,” Rieschl said. “But at the end of the day, the other part of it is we’re inviting these families to come and relax and have fun for the day.”
Dance Marathon is set for April 1, 2017 from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. in the Milo Bail Student Center. All money raised will go to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, a non-profit organization that supports member hospitals. Donations stay local to fund treatments and medical equipment.
Campuses across the nation participate in Dance Marathon each year. Rieschl recently attended a Dance Marathon on another campus to see it in action.
He says the event differs from other fundraising efforts in two key ways. First, fundraising and recruitment go year-round. Second, organizers develop a relationship with families whose lives have been affected by Children’s, regularly spending time with them in the year leading up to the event.
Organizers are planning the event so that it will be just as much fun for the kids as it will be for college students. Guests don’t have to dance. There will also be games, food, crafts and movies.
“It’s an opportunity to come into a welcoming, inviting space - similar to Children’s - where we’re just here to have fun with the kids and treat them like kids,” Rieschl said.
Forsythe says Payton and Parker are excited for the big day, asking a lot of questions, including “Will Durango be there?”
She’s looking forward to seeing her kids’ reactions.
“For them to see adults that care, or ‘big kids’ that care, they think it’s fun,” Forsythe said. “For the students here at UNO, I think it’s a cool thing for them to see that Children’s is such a special place in Omaha.”
Rieschl says Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals is an organization that everyone can support, and Dance Marathon drives home just how important it is.
“When you experience Dance Marathon even for the first hour or two hours, it quickly hits you that this event is more than a 12-hour charity event. It’s magical.”
About the University of Nebraska at Omaha
Located in one of America’s best cities to live, work and learn, the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) is Nebraska’s premier metropolitan university. With more than 15,000 students enrolled in 200-plus programs of study, UNO is recognized nationally for its online education, graduate education, military friendliness and community engagement efforts. Founded in 1908, UNO has served learners of all backgrounds for more than 100 years and is dedicated to another century of excellence both in the classroom and in the community.