GREENFIELD — Surrounded by Greenfield-Central High School students, a 7-year-old raised his arms and waved them above his head in time with the music.
Through the sea of students, each wearing a white T-shirt emblazoned with a the same red logo, Jack Hufty found his mother’s eye. As if to reassure him that it was OK, Becky Hufty threw her hands in the air as well and smiled as she watched her son sway back and forth to the beat.
The Huftys of McCordsville are regulars at events to benefit Riley Hospital for Children, like the dance marathon conducted Saturday at Greenfield-Central High School.
The students collected nearly $5,000 in spare change and donations from local businesses to benefit the Indianapolis hospital. Hufty knows firsthand that each penny goes to good use at Riley.
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Her son has had five surgeries at Riley, many of them in the first few months of his life. Jack was born at 38 weeks after doctors discovered his esophagus was not connected to his stomach.
Riley doctors initially placed a feeding tube to nourish the infant then took a portion of his stomach and created an esophagus for him, Hufty said.
Now, Jack is happy and healthy. The special programs at Riley that dance marathons help fund always make their occasional checkups at Riley less nerve-wracking for Jack, she added.
Riley dance marathons have become popular fundraisers since the first one took place at Indiana University in 1991. Since then, colleges and high schools across the state have hosted events, bringing in millions of dollars to the hospital. Last year, high school students raised more than $500,000 for Riley, organizers said.
Last week, Mt. Vernon High School students raised $8,200 at their annual dance marathon. The Cougars surpassed their original $1,500 goal within two weeks of fundraising and raised the bar to $5,000.
After participating in dance marathons when she was a student at IU, Greenfield-Central teacher Kim Gendron decided to introduce the idea to her students this year. About 20 students quickly signed up to help plan the event.
“I wanted to give the kids here something to be passionate about,” she said.
She added that Hancock County has a special tie to Riley; the hospital is named for poet James Whitcomb Riley, who was born in Greenfield.
Riley Hospital for Children opened in 1924 and has since become one of the top pediatric research hospitals in the country, serving an average of 300,000 patients each year. Dance marathons are just one of many ways the Riley Children’s Foundation helps fund programs at the hospital.
The events come together with the help of numerous student volunteers, Gendron said.
As dancer relations committee leader, senior Lauren Hughes was charged with getting fellow students excited about the upcoming dance marathon and spearheaded fundraising. During passing periods and at lunch hours, students carried buckets and asked for donations. After school, they visited businesses to ask the owners to chip in as well, Hughes said.
Other volunteers, like Taylor Gibson, a Greenfield-Central freshman, focused on finding Riley families from Hancock County to come out, dance and share their stories.
Four local Riley families, including two current Greenfield-Central students, attended Saturday, Gibson said.
One was Gibson’s 12-year-old cousin, William Waldroup of New Palestine, who was born premature and has since gone through many procedures at Riley.
“You name it, he’s been through it,” said Rustena Wadroup, William’s mother.
In the summer of 2009, her son went into kidney failure and underwent a transplant at Riley, Waldroup said.
That surgery inspired her family to get more involved with fundraisers and awareness events for Riley and transplant-awareness organizations.
“Now that he’s healthy, we want to help out whenever we can,” she said. “Riley’s transplant team is amazing; they took a sad situation and turned it into something good. He’s doing well for a kid that wasn’t supposed to make it.”
Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health opened in memory of James Whitcomb Riley in 1924. It has grown to be Indiana’s only pediatric research hospital and one of the top facilities of its kind in the country, according the hospital’s website.
Riley sees more than 300,000 patient each year from around Indiana and across the country.
The Riley Dance Marathon program began in 1991 at Indiana University in memory of Ryan White, a Kokomo resident who contracted AIDS after undergoing a blood transfusion for his hemophilia.
In 24 years, the dance marathon program has grown to include 60 colleges, universities and high schools in the Indiana. It is one of Riley’s fastest-growing fundraising programs.
Source: iudm.org, rileykids.org