These kids make us feel like dancing
Twenty years strong, BuckeyeThon has made an indelible mark — on students who participate, alumni who remain in touch and children with cancer and their families. As a new group of student leaders puts the finishing touches on the 2021 event, meet some of those taking part and alumni so deeply inspired by their own involvement that they’ve pursued lives of service and found countless ways to give for the joy of it.
When she was just 5 years old, Ohio State junior Ambrosia Havan found herself dancing joyfully in a sea of college students at BuckeyeThon’s annual dance marathon.
The celebration raises money for pediatric cancer research, education and patient and family services at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, where her younger sister Avalon was undergoing treatment for leukemia at the time.
“I loved doing the Under the Sea dance move, where you plug your nose, put your hand above your head and wave it down,” Havan says. Over and over, she dove into waves of Ohio State students and young cancer patients and their families, swept up by the energy of the crowd.
Now, 15 years later, Havan is director of events for BuckeyeThon, which has raised more than $12 million in its two decades as an Ohio State student organization. She assists with the premier event — the dance marathon coming up Nov. 6–7 — spearheads BuckeyeThon events throughout the year and has been a team captain for three years.
Havan takes her passion for the fight against childhood cancer to work, too: She is a laboratory support specialist for Nationwide Children’s, where she helps record blood and tissue specimens of cancer patients from around the world.
“My job stems back to being involved with BuckeyeThon,” she says. “It may very well end up influencing what I do in my career.”
Havan is among hundreds of Ohio State students and alumni who have participated in BuckeyeThon throughout its two decades and been inspired to work or volunteer in health care, fundraising, nonprofit leadership and other fields dedicated to improving lives, particularly those of children.
Felix Alonso ’95, ’00 MA, director of student philanthropy at Ohio State, has seen this ripple effect firsthand. He’s been the advisor responsible for guiding BuckeyeThon since 2012.
“I’ve had many students tell me that their experience in the BuckeyeThon helped inspire their choice of career,” he says, naming a few: Imran Nuri ’20, founder of the poverty-fighting 52 Million Project; Kortney Pifher ’14, a physician at Nationwide Children’s; Colin Quinn ’18, a medical school and PhD student at the University of Alabama; and Abby Rieger ’18, a camper family liaison at Flying Horse Farms, a medical specialty camp for children in Mount Gilead, Ohio.
Living the legacy
BuckeyeThon brings sparkle to the eyes of kids battling cancer and joy to briefly lighten the burdens of their parents. And what of the students who participate? They often grow their hearts for service to touch countless lives in many ways, including continued ties to BuckeyeThon. See what they have to share.
This year’s BuckeyeThon president, Ben Smith, is similarly inspired. A senior majoring in accounting, Smith interned this past summer with a global consulting company, an experience that along with BuckeyeThon is shaping his career interests.
“I’m planning on going into the consulting field, where I’ll work with different companies and nonprofits to help them improve their strategies and make an impact on the world,” he says. “BuckeyeThon has definitely played a role in my career path and wanting to do nonprofit and service work.”
Nearly 6,000 students participate in BuckeyeThon each year. Of course, not all go on to careers in health care or nonprofit work, Alonso says, but the 150 students who run the organization gain valuable skills to take into the marketplace.
“They do everything, from the marketing and communications to recruitment, fundraising, organizing events, seeking corporate sponsorships and working with alumni,” Alonso says.
Once they graduate, many BuckeyeThon alumni continue to stay in touch. Smith and other members of the student leadership team are working to get more alumni involved and to expand the BuckeyeThon Alumni Society.
“We’re creating more events and ways that alumni can connect with our current members and share their experience of philanthropy and service,” Smith says. Virtual events are planned as a way to involve alumni from around the country.
“My job stems back to being involved with BuckeyeThon,” she says. “It may very well end up influencing what I do in my career.” Ambrosia Havan
Alicia Hall ’93 is already plugged in. Now in her 16th year with the dance marathon, she is the mother of Ambrosia, Avalon, Aurora ’17 and Anam Havan. It’s clear she considers BuckeyeThon participants to be part of the family.
“It’s been fun watching my kids become occupational therapists, doctors, nurses and researchers,” Hall says. “I’ve also seen kids who are business majors, and when they realize the difference a charity can make, they become nonprofit driven.”
As for the Havan children, all are doing well, including cancer survivor Avalon, who was diagnosed with leukemia at 17 months. Now 18, she is a high school senior taking classes at Columbus State Community College, where she is captain of that school’s fundraising team for BuckeyeThon.
“I plan to earn an associate degree in American Sign Language at Columbus State and then major in zoology at Ohio State. I want to be a zookeeper or animal trainer,” says Avalon, who sees using her sign language skills while presenting animal shows.
Ambrosia, who first arrived on campus as a 5-year-old dancer, is pursuing a degree in microbiology as well as one in evolution and ecology.
She’s keeping her future wide open as she considers grad school and a career in clinical research or law school to work in environmental law. One thing she knows for certain: She’ll be dancing this November, part of an ocean of BuckeyeThon students committed to helping children with cancer.
About the author
Erin MacLellan is a freelance writer in Delaware, Ohio. She earned a degree in French from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree in journalism from Indiana University in Bloomington. When she’s not reading, she’s drinking iced coffee and traveling (mostly in her mind) to France.