Jagathon: A History

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Hundreds of people from different backgrounds, different cultures, and different beliefs gather in the Campus Center of IUPUI each year for one reason: for the kids. With their sore legs and stretched smiles, everyone stands, fights, and dances for the children struggling at the Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. It is Jagathon- a festival full of life and faith, a sign to keep fighting and keep giving. And it all started with one boy.

Ryan White was diagnosed with AIDS at age 13 after receiving a blood transfusion for his hemophilia. His story is known because of the backlash he faced from his community- once he was diagnosed, his school district in Kokomo, Indiana, did not allow him to attend his classes. Ryan White had to fight the school system in court, eventually winning his right to attend school while gaining attention of celebrities, including Elton John and Michael Jackson, and the nation.

Throughout the years, Jagathon's motto of "For The Kids" has been consistent. (Photo by Liz Kaye)

Sadly, White’s fight with the community did not end with the lawsuit. Members of the community claimed the disease was God’s punishment for Ryan White, and after experiencing this prejudice from his peers and neighbors, the Whites were shot at in their homes, causing them to move to Cicero, Indiana, where they were finally respected.

Ryan White died on April 8, 1990 after struggling with his disease and the resulting prejudice for years, one month before his graduation. White planned to attend Indiana University. He spawned prolific change in the United States: the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act, which seeks to help victims of AIDS and Miracle Network Dance Marathons, which funds various children’s hospitals.

In 1991, friends of Ryan White attending Indiana University started the tradition of the Indiana University Dance Marathon, donating money to the hospital Ryan White received treatment in: Riley Hospital for Children. Indiana University has held the Dance Marathon annual since 199, sparking dance marathons throughout the nation, helping children in North America. According to the Miracle Network Dance Marathons website, there are now numerous organizations, entirely student run, who hold a dance marathon annually to raise money for children’s hospital- Miracle Network Dance Marathons raised more than $26 million last year. All of this originated from Ryan White.

The IUPUI Jagathon began in 2002, raising $2,000, and now, 15 years later, it raised $501, 371.24, as stated by the Jagathon website. President Shelby Walker spoke about the Jagathon with passion, sharing their dream of extending the hours of the Jagathon from 15 to 24 and pride in the organization’s achievement of increasing their donation amount in the past years. The Dance Marathon is expected to hold over 1400 attendees of Riley families, volunteers, and participants who will come together for 15 hours to support the children of Riley Hospital, with the motto "For The Kids." To show this support, the attendees are encouraged to stand for the entire time while enjoying games, entertainment, testimonies from Riley families, and dancing.

Jagathon helps to fund Herman B Wells Center of the Riley Hospital for Children for pediatric research. The money donated can help children fighting illness now and children for generations to come- children like Ryan White. Jagathon brings together people from different backgrounds with different beliefs to fight for a common cause: the kids. This student-run organization is the largest on the IUPUI campus, exemplifying the philanthropic spirit we should all strive for. As President Walker said, “You’re never too young to give back.”

Jagathon will be held in the Campus Center on March 2 from noon to 3 a.m. The $25 fee pays for the event entrance, access to the entertainment, and three free meals. Register for the Jagathon at donate.rileykids.org/jagathon.

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