Demons dance the night away at DemonTHON

The DemonTHON board didn’t know how much money they’d raised when the fundraising counter appeared on the screen behind them. They just heard the excited screams of happy, tired dancers as the ticking counter breezed by last year’s total of $103,700 and hit $150,313: all money that will be donated to Lurie’s Children’s Hospital.

More than 300 DePaul students decked in crazy costumes and t-shirts bearing the letters “FTK” – for the kids – danced the night (and day) away in McGrath Arena  May 10-11, and helped DemonTHON become the 18th highest fundraising dance marathon in the nation. 

Between “morale dances,” students heard the stories of patients at Lurie Children’s Hospitals and met more than 20 affected families. When the counter finally hit $150,313.37, the music had stopped, and many dancers mixed sweat with tears.

DePaul senior Tessa Sassolino, DemonTHON’s special events assistant, was not one of the few dry eyes in the crowd after she left the stage for the last time, and said the fundraiser was “amazing.”

“I’ve made some of my best friends through DemonTHON,” said Sassolino. “I’m sad that I can’t go next year, but I’ll definitely help out.”

Part of DemonTHON’s challenge is getting through what Connor Lillis called “dark hours” – periods that push dancers’ endurance and emotions to the breaking point. Lillis, a junior and DemonTHON’s public relations director, hit that hurdle in the early morning hours between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. But by 5 p.m., Lillis could barely contain himself as he tried to take in the full event.

“We broke a record and changed people’s lives in the process,” said Lillis. “That’s all that we could ask for.” Breaking records doesn’t happen overnight. DemonTHON’s external director, Blair Janis, started planning for this year’s event the day after last year’s inaugural event. 

“We really strive to make DemonTHON a year long fundraising organization that culminates in the 24 hour event,” said Janis, a junior public policy and communications major.

This year put a special emphasis on connecting with families and children who would attend the event. “We have a pretty close relationship with a lot of our families, said Janis. “No matter how much we make, every dollar goes to the kids with the greatest needs.”

2-year-old Sean Bransfield is one of those kids. Born with a heart defect, Sean underwent a 12-hour heart surgery at just five days old. Sean took the stage in his father’s arms, flanked by his three siblings, mother, and DePaul students. Naturally, his young brothers and sisters all pledged to go to DePaul. “Sean’s our little blue demon,” said Tom Bransfield, Sean’s father. “He’s a true hell raiser at home.”

Bransfield said he couldn’t get over the enthusiasm of the dancing students. “I’m so used to kind of sleepy seminars that just walking in was a real boost of energy,” said Bransfield. “It was really exciting.”

Bransfield earned his LL.M in tax law from DePaul, and has lived in Lincoln Park since 1997. “We have a lot of connections to DePaul and it’s nice to be included and be able to say thank you,” said Bransfield. “Without that money, (Lurie’s Children’s Hospital) isn’t gonna have the equipment and research the hospital needs … With support like this, we know we’re gonna be ok.”

Katie Paul didn’t let graduating with a journalism degree a quarter early stop her from attending DemonTHON. “I was really moved coming here last year,” said Paul. “Something that got me was (DePaul) president (Fr. Dennis H. Holtschneider) saying that these kids could be future Blue Demons really got me.” Paul was patient at Lurie’s Children Hospital (then Children’s Memorial Hospital) herself as a kid. “If you can do a little part, it helps so much,” said Paul.

It was Fr. Holtschneider himself, who took the stage at the end of the event, who perhaps summed up the event best. “You guys are awesome,” he said. “And I think somewhere, St. Vincent is pretty proud too.”