On Sunday afternoon, UGA Miracle, the University of Georgia’s largest student-run philanthropy, announced it had raised $1,032,572 for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Nearly 2,000 students representing more than 30 student organizations gathered in Tate Student Center Grand Hall overnight Feb. 25-26 for UGA Miracle’s annual Dance Marathon.
Beginning at 2 p.m. on Saturday and lasting until Sunday afternoon, thousands of students, faculty, staff and members of “Miracle Families” danced, enjoyed live music, and continued fundraising for the final few hours of a yearlong effort.
This was the 28th annual Dance Marathon. The event is a symbolic gesture of sacrificing a day in support of children who have had to sacrifice much more of their own time to combat illness in hospitals. Since its inception, Miracle has raised more than $14 million for Children’s Healthcare – $8 million of that total coming in the last seven years.
The final fundraising total represents the entire year’s effort, including milestone events like “Beyond Limits” and “Ring the Bell” day, when the students raised more than $184,000 and $55,000, respectively.
Each year, the first million dollars raised goes to support the Comprehensive Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit (CIRU). All funds raised above $1 million go to the AFLAC cancer and blood disorders unit, supporting child-life specialists and hospital life. The largest gym in the CIRU is named after UGA Miracle, where UGA students typically meet with their “Miracle children” on hospital visits.
This year’s event included the traditional activities, such as the “hair chop challenge,” morale dances, games and activities for the children and their families, and the student-favorite “silent disco,” along with new additions such as a magician who performed at 4:30 in the morning.
Daniella Dicarlo, a fourth-year double major in anthropology and psychology who is also pursuing a master’s degree in nonprofit management and leadership, came to UGA from her hometown of Rockaway Beach, New York, with no knowledge of Children’s or Miracle. Very soon after being introduced by some friends during her freshman year, she was hooked.
“I was immediately inspired by the cause and the passion and involvement of the students supporting these families, particularly through the pandemic,” said Dicarlo. “Miracle is a great way to support the UGA community in a deeper sense.”
This year, Dicarlo served as UGA Miracle’s executive director. Having discovered a motivation to serve, following graduation, she hopes to pursue a career in development and fundraising for large-scale nonprofits.
She is one of a team of 150 student leaders in the organization, and many roles are formally approved experiential learning opportunities for the university requirement. To support these students, this year Miracle added a program director position who coordinates leadership development, cultivating and developing future student leaders and creating a more meaningful experience.
Though Dance Marathon’s origins are in Greek Life, the event and UGA Miracle have grown in recent years to include students and organizations from across campus, including teams from athletics, individual school and college majors, professional schools, and various university departments.
The most stirring aspect of Dance Marathon is the attendance of the “Miracle children,” Children’s Healthcare patients who interact with Miracle’s student members during the year. Each year, these children and their families are delighted to return to the Tate Center to share their inspirational stories from the main stage.
The Miracle children themselves were likely the most excited about seeing their friends and the UGA students. Last fall, organization members and the children and their families gathered at Washington Farms in Oconee County for Family Day.
“We’re here to support the Miracle families,” said Dicarlo, “but it’s amazing and humbling when we feel their support back.”
An exciting feature of this year’s programming was the return of patient visits, after several years when the students were unable to visit the hospital due to pandemic restrictions. Miracle hosted more than 10 patient parties across several floors of the hospital throughout the year. Though the fundraising is an important part of UGA Miracle’s mission, the primary focus of the students is supporting the children and health care workers at Children’s.
“COVID restrictions are still high, but we have limited numbers of students making the trip over there around three times a month,” said Dicarlo. “We decorate rooms for birthdays and holidays, just looking for any ways we can serve the families in addition to the fundraising efforts.”
Last year at this time, Children’s announced plans for UGA Miracle’s involvement with the Arthur M. Blank Hospital, their new flagship facility. The hospital was originally scheduled to be completed in fall of 2025, but the project is running well ahead of schedule and is now slated to be completed a year early, in fall of 2024.
Upon completion, the AFLAC cancer and blood disorders unit will be fully housed at the Arthur M. Blank Hospital, meaning that UGA Miracle’s philanthropic efforts will be shared between the new facility and the CIRU gym at Scottish Rite.
When the total was revealed Sunday, the usual sights and sounds of laughter, celebration, tears and hugs filled Tate Grand Hall.
“It’s awesome to see the smiles and emotion when we reveal the total,” said Dicarlo. “We know we’re making an impact and creating miracles at the hospitals and with the families, and that’s incredible to realize.”