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Knight-Thon, the annual dance marathon held at UCF to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network, raised just over $1 million for the first time on April 3.

The fundraising total of $1,001,678.20 exceeded the goal of $820,000 by a wide margin. In 2015, the event raised more than $688,000. Just two years before that, the total was $258,554, according to a previous Future article.

“In the past few years, we’ve put a huge focus on our dancer relations, that is, working with our students that are involved,” said Nicole Ramirez, executive director of Knight-Thon. “We’ve always had a huge Greek involvement, but this year and the year before, we put a huge focus on RSOs and other student organizations.”

Ramirez said that the number of dancers, which has nearly doubled from around 800 in 2014 to more than 1,500 in 2016, played a big role in the amount of money the event was able to raise.

“It’s not [just] about the funds, it’s about the amount of people that are interested,” Ramirez said.

Knight-Thon is an SGA agency that works with an annual budget of around $50,000, which goes toward merchandise, entertainment and booking the venue, Ramirez said.

Each student who attended Knight-Thon had to raise at least $200 before the event.

Brandon Kraut, Knight-Thon’s executive director for the 2016-2017 school year, said 809 Knight-Thon attendees raised between $200 and $499, 201 raised between $500 and $999, and 188 students achieved “comma club” status by raising $1,000 or more for the 2016 event.

These numbers suggest that at least $450,000 of Knight-Thon’s fundraising total for 2016 came from student fundraising before the event.

About $178,746.71 was raised during the event this year, Kraut said. Online donations from outreach through email and social media accounted for $132,138.71 of this total.

The other $46,608 came from cash spent and raised by students during the event through purchasing merchandise, “sit-down passes” that were available and through various other means, including the “jail” where some students languished for a time throughout Knight-Thon.

Heather De Jaco, a junior event management major from Louisville, Kentucky, had to raise money from behind the bars of a makeshift prison cell that stood in one corner of the dance floor in the CFE Arena.

“My team put [all] their money together to put in me in here, and now I have to raise $228 to leave,” De Jaco said, holding a sign advertising her willingness to do impressions, sing or rap to raise money.

“It’s worked pretty well so far,” De Jaco said. “I’ve raised $99.06 already.”

De Jaco explained that anyone could put down an initial amount of money to put someone in Knight-Thon jail. In order to leave, each prisoner had to raise enough money for “bail,” which was always set at twice the initial amount. De Jaco’s team donated $114 to put her behind bars.

“Hopefully I’ll get out within another half hour,” De Jaco said, “because I really have to go to the bathroom.”

Ramirez explained that about a 10th of Knight-Thon’s 2016 total came from six mini dance marathons held at high schools and an elementary school in the Central Florida area, including Winter Park High School, University High School and Cyprus Springs Elementary.

“We had them last year, but this year was the first year there was a specific [executive board] position solely dedicated to mini-dance marathons,” Ramirez said. “We went from having four last year, which raised around $50,000, to having six this year that raised $118,000.”

Ramirez, who became the executive director for her third year on the board of Knight-Thon, said the renewed focus on dancer relations helped to make each participant feel like an important part of the process.

“I think in the past, dancers have felt like the executive board … is just hounding them for money or just hounding them to come out to our events,” Ramirez said. “This year we tried to even out the levels of leadership and really empower them to feel important and feel that they play a very valuable part in [Knight-Thon], and I think that got them more excited about it and more willing and inspired to fundraise.”

Ramirez hopes that Knight-Thon continues to grow in the future.

“This year, we got pretty creative in reaching out to students who hadn’t participated in Knight-Thon,” Ramirez said. “I think that’s been a huge key. We’ve figured it out on campus. Next year, it will be [about] what can we do outside of this campus and what can we do tap into the outer UCF community.”

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Alex Storer is a senior staff writer for the Central Florida Future. 

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