Huffpost Impact

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Zac Johnson Headshot

Extracurricular Credit: 250 College and High School Campuses Raise Millions for Local Children's Hospitals in 2012.

Posted: Updated:

Alex did not come to college to dedicate all his spare time to volunteerism. He came to study, learn a trade, and most of all have fun in the last four carefree years before adulthood. Alex most definitely did not come to college to change the world. But that's exactly what he and 600,000 of his peers have chosen to do this past school year in support of Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Dance Marathon program.

Now on more than 250 college campuses and countless high schools, Dance Marathon has proven to be the experiential fundraising and project-based learning event of choice for this country's next generation of revolutionary leaders.

Through this year-long program students can count making a real and lasting impact on their local children's hospital as a memory, a growing experience and -- in many ways -- a learned skill set that will service them and others for years to come.

I see this amazing student-led teamwork nearly every day as the national director for Dance Marathon, a Children's Miracle Network Hospitals program. From September to May I'm on the road and in the air, bound for my next front row seat to the most inspiring, uplifting and emotionally overwhelming philanthropic events imaginable; visit your local college's Dance Marathon in person to see that I make no exaggeration.

Dance Marathons for "CMN Hospitals" can differ in terms of scope and plan, but you'll find a few common elements no matter where you spot one: high school or college students raising funds online and in their communities for their nearest member children's hospital. This year-long effort leads up to the collective celebration that is Dance Marathon. A 12-, 24-, even 40-hour party for some truly inspirational kids.

After the funds have been raised and the event details worked out, all that remains is to treat Miracle Kids from the hospital to an event they will never forget. During "DM" they are no longer sick, no longer "different," they are rock stars of the highest order and Dance Marathon is their day to shine. As one child battling cancer recently told me, "Dance Marathon is better than Christmas!" Now that's a serious endorsement!

Just run a #forthekids or #FTK search on Twitter to see how passionate and driven students can be when it comes to helping kids get better. I doubt you'll happen upon a more dedicated and enthusiastic group of young men and women.

A successful Dance Marathon is one that raises thousands of dollars thanks to the dedicated hearts and minds of its students. That achievement can lead to some pretty dynamic numbers down the road. Established Dance Marathon college programs--like those found at Indiana University, University of Iowa, University of Florida, Florida State and The Ohio State University--are simply mind-blowing in their sheer size, scope and impact on the kids they serve.

These programs have executive board leading hundreds of students spread over such specialized committees as "Finance," "Technology," and "Media Relations;" all operating like a finely tuned and beat-based orchestra to each raise millions and continually raise the bar. Indiana University broke the $2 million mark last year and U of Iowa and U of Florida aren't far behind.

Part of what makes Dance Marathon such a success -- and often a chosen career path for volunteer organizers -- are the real lives that funds touch just a few blocks or miles away. In the case of the University of Iowa's 19-year program, Dance Marathon has directly impacted over 750 families who've been affected by pediatric cancer. Many Iowa students are even past beneficiaries of Dance Marathon funds. And quite a few DM leaders credit the program with saving their lives.

Other Dance Marathon funds have gone to pay for specialized equipment, newborn ICU wards, and even entire wings of hospitals. They benefit such varied needs as pediatric cancer research, infectious disease treatment, and physical rehabilitation. Although many chose to just support whatever the hospital's greatest need is at the time. Often these "unrestricted funds" can be the most life-changing for a child and their family.

No matter what hospital need is filled, students walk out of every sweat-filled Dance Marathon knowing how much influence they can hold at such an early age, and exactly who they've just impacted. But perhaps the most powerful takeaway is knowing that by becoming a part of something bigger than themselves, they do and will change the world.

Take Alex, for example: after starting Dance Marathon at his university and helping to grow it over the course of four years, he has gone on to found his own charity -- which is already making an impact on the kids he once served in college

For that promise alone, here's to Alex and the rest of the Dance Marathon class of 2013.

Since 2008, Zac Johnson has led youth marketing programs at Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, a North American charity raising funds at the local level. His department's key collegiate program is Dance Marathon, which is currently on 250 campuses across the U.S.

Zac came to the national CMN Hospitals office from Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. His first leadership experience with Dance Marathon was at Indiana University, whose program is the second largest student-run philanthropy in the country. Follow Zac's journey through Dance Marathon on Twitter @CMN_Zac.