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Dance Marathon Does It Again

Annual student-run event raises more than $1 million for fifth straight year for two charities

  • Northwestern student fundraiser will make a difference in the lives of chronically ill children
  • NUDM 2015 donates $836,489.57 to Starlight Children’s Foundation
  • Evanston Community Foundation receives $92,943.29 as NUDM’s secondary beneficiary
  • Videotaped messages from celebrities encouraged students to keep dancing for 30 hours

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Teamwork and a steady stream of donations and encouragement from across the country helped Northwestern University Dance Marathon (NUDM) -- one of the largest student-run philanthropies in the world -- break the $1 million mark this year for the fifth consecutive year.

NUDM 2015 raised a total of $1,130,979 in cash and in-kind donations for two worthy causes during the weekend of March 6-8.

Of the cash raised, a check for $836,489.57 was presented to Jacquie Hart, Global CEO of Starlight Children’s Foundation, NUDM’s primary beneficiary. The leading global charity partners with experts to improve the life and health of kids and families around the world through an array of family-centered programs. Cortney Szlemp, NUDM’s Starlight liaison, joined Hart on stage to accept the check.

Another check for $92,943.29 was presented to the Evanston Community Foundation (ECF), an Evanston-based organization that provides funding for local grants for the common good. As NUDM’s secondary beneficiary since 1998, ECF received 10 percent of NUDM 2015’s net proceeds. The check was presented to ECF’s outgoing president and CEO, Sara Schastok.

Starlight plans to use the money to fund Starlight Sites in up to 10 Chicago-area hospitals, which will provide welcoming and kid-friendly hospital environments for chronically ill children. It was the first time since 2010 that NUDM dollars raised by Northwestern students were not used for research.

ECF will put the funds to use for a full range of local grants and programs.  

The energy and sense of camaraderie that took place during NUDM 2015 weekend (March 6-8) was completely unrivaled from other years, and much of it stemmed from NUDM’s Hero Program, according to Ander Aretakis, NUDM executive co-chair and a Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences senior.

NUDM’s Hero Program links the Northwestern community to families supported by the primary beneficiary, allowing students to form relationships with “Heroes” to better understand the cause.

“More students than ever before were able to connect to families from Starlight, and because of that I hope they had a deeper understanding of just how impactful their work will be for Starlight and for ECF.” This year a record-breaking 40-plus families signed up to be a part of the program.

Aretakis, who co-chaired the event with Weinberg senior David Ryan, said he was beyond proud of everyone involved this year, including friends, family, students, faculty, dancers, committee members and the executive board, who helped NUDM in being able to give the second largest donation in NUDM's history to the 2015 beneficiaries.

“Their sacrifice and selflessness are going to change the lives of thousands of critically and chronically ill children and their families for decades to come -- and that is the most important thing to remember about this year,” Aretakis added.

Top representatives from both charitable organizations who benefitted from this year’s NUDM expressed their appreciation to all the donors and to the students and committee members responsible for raising this year’s funds.

“With all that the world has to offer and the competing demands on a college student’s time, Northwestern University students chose to spend hundreds of hours and several months planning, canning and dancing to support medically fragile children and their families,” said Starlight Global CEO Hart. “These students are our future leaders who choose to do good instead of doing nothing, who choose to spend time instead of kill time, who choose to dance and dream for those who may not be able and who choose to come alongside their fellow man, woman and child at a time when they are desperate for uplift.”

Hart said she was grateful to the students for making a difference in the lives of children in the Midwest. “As a member of the NUDM family, and as a beneficiary of your love, time, talent and treasure, I go forward in life inspired by the best of humanity,” Hart added.

Schastok, president and CEO of the Evanston Community Foundation, this year’s secondary beneficiary, also expressed her gratitude for the NUDM team’s efforts, not only this year but for past years, as well.

“What Northwestern students do each year through Dance Marathon is about much more than money, and you really feel that in the final hour,” said Schastok, who has attended the annual 30-hour fundraiser every year since she joined the foundation in February 2001. In fact, NUDM was one of her first ECF-related events.

“Think of it -- in the midst of their studies -- more than 1,000 students imagine and invest themselves in making life better for literally thousands of people they will never meet. ECF has the same commitment, so we are truly grateful to be a part of NUDM and to be the beneficiary of its success,” Schastok added.

Schastok said that NUDM dollars benefit Evanston in three ways. Most of this year’s $92,943.29 will flow directly out as grants to organizations that serve Evanston residents, some will support the grant-making support services that ECF program officers provide, and some will fund the small but impactful community catalyst grants that are made throughout the year.

Schastok, who plans to retire as president and CEO of ECF at the end of this year, will be transitioning to senior philanthropic advisor for the foundation in 2016. She said she also was delighted to accept a special “450-hours” shirt that was presented to her during NUDM weekend to commemorate her 15 years of NUDM participation.

“I treasure the opportunities I’ve had to work with so many committed and astute young people over the years,” Schastok added. “While I am stepping down from the role of president and CEO, the Evanston Community Foundation will continue to grow as a resource for the community we all share. ECF is indeed here for good. NUDM is among the best parts of my job, and I will certainly miss it.”

The 2015 weekend events -- which culminate nearly a year of fundraising -- featured more than 1,000 Northwestern undergraduate students who danced for 30 hours to raise funds for both organizations in NUDM’s 41st annual fundraising event.

In addition to loud, round-the-clock dance music and a pep talk by Wildcats football coach Pat Fitzgerald, recent NUDM weekend highlights included a 5K run around Northwestern’s lakefill; a Kids Fair that featured face painting, cookie decorating, beanbag tossing and other fun activities; donations, and an online silent auction that was launched a week before the dancing began. It also included speeches by NUDM’s “Hero” families, news coverage by CBS, ABC and NBC, and support from an all-star cast of celebrities who encouraged students via video to “keep on dancing.”

A lip-synch video posted on NUDM’s Facebook page, which NUDM filmed at Children’s Hospital University of Illinois, helped to raise awareness for NUDM’s weekend event in the two weeks leading up to NUDM weekend. It features pediatric patients and staff members singing along to the song “Best Day of My Life” by the four-piece alternative rock group American Authors. To view the YouTube video, visit

Among the videotaped stars who appeared on screen were cast members Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Angela Bassett and Finn Wittrock from FX’s television hit “American Horror Story”; NBC-TV’s Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee, co-hosts of the fourth hour of “The Today Show”; Nick Lachey, musician, actor and television personality, who rose to fame as a member of the musical group 98 Degrees; and actor Ashton Kutcher, known for his most recent work on CBS’ “Two and a Half Men.”

International recording star Ariana Grande; the cast of the Broadway musical “Kinky Boots”; actress Halle Berry; supermodel and Northwestern alumna Cindy Crawford; screen actor Mark Wahlberg; international music star Iggy Azalea; and Northwestern alumna Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who portrayed Elaine on “Seinfeld,” also provided videotaped messages.

Other related NUDM 2015 fundraising events included a series of trivia nights, Battle of the Bands and DJs event, and “canning” for cash donations on Evanston, Skokie and Winnetka streets, as well as before and after basketball games at the University’s Welsh-Ryan Arena.

Starlight Children’s Foundation

Founded in 1982, Starlight Children’s Foundation is a leading global charity that partners with experts to improve the life and health of kids and families around the world. Collaborating with innovators in pediatric healthcare, entertainment and technology, Starlight provides a unique blend of family-centered programs and services from hospital to home. Starlight partners with more than 1,750 healthcare facilities and pediatric hospitals in Australia, Canada, Israel, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, serving millions of children every year. To learn more, visit, or follow Starlight on Facebook at StarlightChildrensFoundation and on Twitter @StarlightOnline.

Evanston Community Foundation (ECF)

The Evanston Community Foundation (ECF) builds, connects and distributes resources and knowledge for the common good through local organizations. In March 2014, ECF received 10 percent of Dance Marathon’s net proceeds -- a check for $103,476.58 -- breaking the $100,000 mark for the first time. Last May, Dance Marathon dollars helped ECF to fund 28 local grants totaling more than $258,000. (ECF made total distributions of $1,987,421 in 2013-14.) For more information on the foundation, visit


Now in its 41st year, NUDM is one of the largest entirely student-run philanthropies in the nation. Since 1975, NUDM has raised more than $15 million for more than 30 different charities. To learn more, visit

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