LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 1, 2022) — When University of Kentucky student Nick Joseph, a senior from Lexington, was traveling through an airport recently, the UK T-shirt he was wearing and a yellow DanceBlue ribbon pinned to his backpack caught the eye of another traveler. The curious traveler struck up a conversation with Joseph to ask if he was a part of DanceBlue at UK. As it turned out, the other traveler was a UK graduate who had also been involved in the dance marathon while a student at UK. This was not the first time that Joseph shared a connection with someone because of his affiliation with one of the fastest-growing philanthropies in the Southeastern Conference.
If you live in Kentucky, chances are you’ve heard of DanceBlue, a year-long effort of fundraising events that culminates in a 24-hour no sitting, no sleeping dance marathon. DanceBlue is an entirely student-run organization on campus that to date, has raised $18.3 to support the UK Kentucky Children’s Hospital (KCH) Hematology/Oncology Clinic through the Golden Matrix Funds.
Now going into its 17th year, DanceBlue is one of UK’s largest and most highly anticipated fundraisers, born from the wishes of a selfless little boy, Jarrett Mynear, a pediatric cancer patient at KCH Hematology/Oncology Clinic. In his short life, Jarrett only wanted to encourage and bring joy to patients like himself, and he did so by passing out toys from "Jarrett’s Joy Cart."
After his passing in 2002, his mother, Jennifer Mynear, carried out Jarrett’s last wishes which included making KCH’s Hematology/Oncology Clinic a better place for patients and their families. One little boy, a big dream and a cart full of stuffed animals led to a cause that has grown by leaps and bounds, becoming nationally recognized and often inspiring other student organizations across the country to take up similar, worthy causes. This has become Jarrett Mynear’s legacy, uniting people in communities across the Commonwealth and far beyond, to help children and their families affected by cancer.
Joseph, the current overall chair of the DanceBlue committee, first got involved in mini marathons held during his junior and senior years of high school. After hearing Jennifer Mynear speak, he was motivated to get involved and stay involved with DanceBlue once he became a UK student. The experience has been very rewarding for Joseph but during his term as chair, he and the other committee members have faced unprecedented challenges because of the pandemic.
“Organizations reduced their budgets during COVID and initially we were a bit concerned about raising the funds needed to support the clinic,” Joseph said. “It was inspiring to see so many people in the community band together and continue to give to this impactful cause.”
Jennifer Derk, DanceBlue’s marketing chair and a senior from New Lenox, Illinois, said fundraising events had to go on despite the challenges of a pandemic because children being diagnosed with cancer doesn’t stop. Despite the pandemic and a dance marathon that had to be held virtually, over $1 million was raised in 2021.
“Seeing how much we could do during a pandemic, and seeing the community come together for this one common bond we share, has been one of my biggest rewards. We are a completely student-run organization of incredible people who are powerful and motivated to work for children in the community,” Derk said.
The DanceBlue committee is a group of 152 hard-working students with serious commitment. It takes many hours of work to run the office, plan and carry out fundraising events and plan marketing and merchandising. These efforts require high level skill sets from the leadership.
“We work plenty of hours in and outside of the office and we have to balance that with school and jobs but it’s worth it. Learning time management and multitasking is key,” Derk said.
Joseph adds that the skills students develop through DanceBlue will transfer well into future jobs.
“There are 10 chairs and 142 additional committee members who spend a significant amount of time on DanceBlue. We contact corporations to ask for sponsorships, plan social media posts and fundraising campaigns, work with vendors, and speak in public. These are the kind of responsibilities you have volunteering for this organization. For me, getting involved with DanceBlue has been a wonderful way to grow professionally and meet some truly awesome people who I likely wouldn’t have met otherwise, ” he said.
DanceBlue committee members, like Derk and Joseph, are passionate about the DanceBlue mission to raise funds to support research, the day-today operations of the Hematology/Oncology Clinic and provide resources to help make the lives of families easier with meal vouchers, lodging and other needs. None of the committee’s goals could be met without the enthusiasm, energy and dedication of the hundreds of DanceBlue marathon participants raising money throughout the year.
Derk says that the dance marathon is the end celebration of a year of hard work and fundraising efforts. All funds raised throughout the year go toward the end total of the money earned at the marathon.
Joseph adds that, historically, KCH patients and their families attend the marathon and the DanceBlue participants get to interact and play games with the kids.
“At the end of the year when you see hundreds of students and community members gathered and see the total money raised, the feeling is like nothing else,” Joseph said. “It is an absolute privilege to impact the community in this way.”
If you’re interested in joining DanceBlue to participate in fundraising events or join a dance team, go to www.danceblue.org.
The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers." We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.