Early Sunday night, the dance floor at BAR attracted a different crowd than usual.
In addition to pizza eaters and billiards players, the restaurant hosted Yale students, who took over the dance floor to raise money for adolescent and young adult care programs at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven. Yale For the Kids, an entirely freshmen-run student organization founded this year, coordinated the dance marathon as a fundraiser for a new Teen Center and program director, which would provide additional psychosocial support for the hospital’s adolescent cancer patients. Psychosocial support includes mental health counseling, group support and education.
“It’s really hard to imagine transitioning into adulthood while also going through cancer treatment,” Yale For the Kids member Kristy Kim ’19 said. “It’s a psychological burden on the family and of course on the patient, so we’re raising funds to help with those services.”
The idea for the event stemmed from popular dance marathons at other schools, such as the charity dance marathons at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Pennsylvania State University, said Bennett Byerley ’19, who spearheaded the project. The Yale For the Kids team, all members of Freshman Class Council, originally wanted to organize the dance through the Council but ultimately decided to take ownership in order to stay involved in future years.
While BAR donated use of the venue, registration fees for the dance marathon helped cover the cost of the pizza and postage for a letter campaign scheduled to follow the marathon, Byerley said. He added that attendees were asked to provide addresses for family and friends who will be contacted through the letter campaign. Byerley said the campaign will hopefully raise additional funds through mailed checks.
“College students will only get you so far, but college students have family and friends who are willing to support them for a good cause,” Byerley said. “We’re going to send out individualized letters to everyone we get addresses for, and hopefully we can develop a relationship with the donors this year.”
Event organizers emphasized that they did not expect to raise a tremendous amount of money in their first year, but wanted to start small and learn from the experience in order to grow over the years. Kim said the team set no monetary goal, but rather focused on raising awareness about Yale For The Kids to create a “snowball effect” that will hopefully popularize the organization for future events.
While the turnout was modest, Yale For The Kids member Jason Hu ’19 said that even if only two students had showed up to dance, it still would have been a contribution and a valuable learning experience. He added that the importance of the cause was an effective motivator in planning the event.
“We’re starting really small this year, just looking to learn more about how to work through this process and how we can best grow and develop,” Byerley said. “The impact we’re really looking for is to contribute over the course of these four years to funding a program director who would be in charge of making sure that young adults get the psychological and social support they need as they’re going through cancer treatment.”
Kathi Croce, a psychologist who works on the Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Program at Smilow Cancer Hospital and who attended the event, said the hospital was especially grateful for the marathon and fundraising because the Adolescent Young Adult Oncology Program is multifaceted and important. The Adolescent Young Adult Oncology Program provides physical and psychological care for teen and young adult patients, but the program is looking to expand its psychosocial services. Croce added that funds can help decorate and support the space, fund the programs themselves and pay the salaries of psychosocial workers.
Also at the event was Doug Berv, a New Haven psychiatrist whose 22-year-old daughter is a cancer patient in Smilow’s pediatric oncology unit. He said that while cancer is “devastating” at any age, it is especially difficult for the young adult population. He added that his daughter has found the hospital’s psychological support system very helpful.
“The medical care is critical, but the emotional experience is an incredible struggle as well,” Croce said. “We need to do what we can to help people survive that, not only physically but psychologically, to help them adjust and be courageous and support survivorship. Resilience is critical to get to the other side.”
A teen program would benefit not only patients, but their families, caregivers and friends as well, Croce said. She added that research shows psychosocial support is critical for surviving cancer and for successfully readjusting to life as a survivor.
Attendees — mostly Yale freshmen — said they found out about the dance marathon through friends on Yale For the Kids and other publicity efforts, adding that they were happy to contribute to the cause. Camille Kima ’19 praised the event for its “great pizza and great music.”
Yale For the Kids hopes to hold similar events in the future and incorporate community service into student government by having Yale College Council sponsor future marathons, Byerley said. Hu said next week the organization will sell tickets for Toad’s on Wednesday and plans on reaching out to incoming freshman to expand in the fall.
“We’re trying to figure out how to gain support and get students to be passionate about it, because that’s what makes this happen,” Byerley said. “We’re laying the groundwork this year for something bigger and better next year and in years to come.”
Correction, Apr. 11: A previous version of the article stated that Doug Berv is a psychologist; in fact he is a psychiatrist.