Sarah Hope wants the world to get to know her home town for its good parenting, community, and extraordinary acts of charity.
Given all of the attention South Glens Falls, NY has been getting lately on Gawker, the New York Times, The Good Men Project, and ABC News because of that mother who bought strippers for her 16-year-old’s birthday party, I wished someone would highlight the best part of my little Upstate New York hometown. I hate to see this village of 4,000 get attention for all the wrong reasons, when in reality it is one of the most positive and charitable places in the country.
For the past 35 years, South Glens Falls High School has hosted an annual Marathon Dance. It’s not like the typical marathons of yore, where couples had to hang on to each other for dear life and take naps against one another’s chests to see who could stay standing the longest. No, the South High Marathon Dance (SHMD) is much bigger than that.
Each year, students in grades 9-12 come together the first weekend in March to dance for 28 hours straight and raise money for local charities and individuals in need. And it’s not just pennies we’re talking about here. Over the course of 35 years, SHMD has raised over $3 million for over 240 recipients. At the first event, 50 students raised $1,500 for the local Emergency Squad. In 2012, over 650 students raised more than $396,000. Records are broken every year. The dance begins at 6pm on Friday night, and ends at 10pm on Saturday. The dancers get one two hour sleep break at 4am and a few 15-minute breaks throughout; otherwise, they are dancing straight through. The stamina of these teenagers is impressive in itself, but the charitable spirit of the dance is truly electrifying.
Past recipients have included the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Habitat for Humanity and scholarship funds as well as local people in need of handicapped-accessible vans, organ transplants, motorized wheelchairs or help with other medical expenses. The funds raised have also sent terminally ill community members on vacations with their families and bought gifts for local families at Christmas. A full list can be found here.
Throughout the years, community involvement outside of the school has increased exponentially. In the weeks leading up to it, local restaurants host “marathon nights” when they donate 10% of their sales to the dance. The local fire department hosts an annual breakfast, prepared and served by student dancers and their families. Each of the district’s four elementary schools raise a few hundred dollars. Fathers and mothers go door-to-door and solicit family members across the country to boost their children’s contributions, then show up early on Friday morning to help hang lights, set up, and supervise student changing/nap rooms throughout the weekend. Community members donate thousands of bananas, oranges, hot dogs, water bottles, and other simple staple foods to sustain the kids during the dance. Each year, hundreds of alumni return to help out, inspire, and dance alongside their younger counterparts. I will not be attending this year, but you can bet I will be watching the live stream.
As much bad parenting as there is to be seen in the world, I don’t want this Judy Viger case to overshadow the tremendous amount of GOOD parenting that happens in my town. According to this year’s press release, nearly 80% of the school’s population participates. It is awe-inspiring to see the way these kids and their parents come together for something good, fostering a lifelong commitment to community involvement and charity.
When you see a terminally ill, wheelchair-bound child smiling ear-to-ear and waving to hundreds of students who are giving him an ear-splitting, energetic standing ovation, or hear a motivational speech from a past recipient who survived cancer and is standing before you, holding her newborn grandchild, eight years after her doctor gave her a six month death sentence, you begin to understand exactly how important this event is to so many people and their families.
The night concludes with a dramatic reveal of the total, followed by lots of crying and hugging. Students breathlessly make their way into the crowd to greet their families, collect their things and, bleary-eyed with emotional and physical exhaustion, head out into the night to sleep straight through Sunday. South Glens Falls residents return to life as usual on Monday, but the inspiration and joy of the accomplishment lasts throughout the year. For many, it lasts a lifetime.
The 2013 dance is this weekend, March 1st and 2nd. You can find information about each of this year’s recipients and donate online here.