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Exhausted and emotional, 1,500 undergraduate students who had just completed the final hour of the 30-hour-long Dance Marathon stood in suspense as members of the executive committee announced the total funds raised through their collective efforts.

Holding a large board, Northwestern University Dance Marathon’s (DM) finance committee revealed that the student philanthropists had successfully raised $1,253,596 in cash and in-kind donations for GiGi’s Playhouse that will improve the lives of individuals with Down syndrome and spread a message of acceptance for people of all abilities.

This year’s event set a new cash total record, allowing DM to write the largest check to a beneficiary in its 43 year history.

The year-long effort — which required students to solicit pledges and sponsors, staff a phone bank, go “canning” on street corners and plan an online auction and alumni reunion — concluded this weekend with the high-energy test of endurance and generosity that is Dance Marathon.

“To see the impact of a year’s worth of activities, fundraising and awareness is amazing,” said executive co-chair Ian Pappas. “The final total on the board represents just a fraction of the big picture of DM. The fundraising, service and advocacy for individuals with Down syndrome and Northwestern’s conscious decision not to be complacent — that is the true power of DM.”

DM is one of the largest entirely student-run philanthropies in the nation. Its storied traditions — from the Saturday morning sunrise lap to learning choreography for the official “30-hour dance” to saluting members of the 120 hour club with a presentation of t-shirts — have won Dance Marathon the loyalty of legions of students and alumni for more than four decades.

The committed relationship between the students and its primary beneficiary was palpable throughout the marathon weekend as youth and adult heroes from GiGi’s Playhouse worked side by side with the students, making paper hats during the children’s activity fair, cheering at celebrity video greetings (including one by namesake GiGi Gianni) and of course, lots and lots of dancing.  

GiGi’s Playhouse will receive 90 percent of the net proceeds and Evanston Community Foundation will receive 10 percent.

DM’s fundraising will support three GiGi’s initiatives including expansion of its Amina Grace speech and language program and of GiGi’s fitness program. It will also help launch the pilot Mobile Playhouse program, which will allow GiGi’s to be even more accessible to underserved neighborhoods.

Evanston Community Foundation will use its proceeds to provide funding and services to deserving individuals, families and nonprofit organizations to make Evanston thrive now and forever as a vibrant, inclusive and just community.