LINCOLN PARK — After raising a record-setting $103,000 for Ann & Robert Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago last year, organizers of DePaul University's largest student-run fundraiser, a 24-hour Dance Marathon, are doing everything they can to top that number this spring.
"We smashed the record. We are very proud we did that," said Connor Lillis, a sophomore and public relations director for the organization.
This year, the organization is hoping to get 500 students to take part in the event on May 10-11.
About 250 students already have raised a minimum of $250 each to participate in the overnight event held inside the Sullivan Athletic Center.
Along with the minimum of $250 for each dancer, students raise money over the entire year leading up to the dance during DePaul basketball games, Chicago Bears football games and other fundraising events.
For the student dancers who pull an all-nighter, the big moment of the night is the unveiling of the final total that had been raised. That total is kept secret from everyone but the finance director during the 364 days of fundraising leading up to the event.
Seeing that number was shocking.
"I cried for an hour. We were all just standing there sobbing," Lillis said. "I didn't know if I was crying because I was tired or I did something that was absolutely amazing."
DemonTHON's goal for 2013 is to raise 20 percent more than last year for Lurie Children's Hospital, the local Children's Miracle Network Hospital.
During the event, young patients from the hospital, who have either been treated for a serious illness or continue to be treated, come to tell the story of their illness and treatment to the dancers.
DePaul senior Hope Cornelis signed on as the family relations director this year and has been in touch with a number of patients who will be coming to speak.
"I was born with a heart defect, so that kind of made me feel a connection to the families too. That's one reason why I wanted to get involved with the families," she said.
To get the dancers through the night, since they're not allowed to sit for the full 24 hours, the organization brings in entertainment such as local bands, yoga instructors and campus groups.
But the early morning hours still can be brutal, Lillis said.
"We call them the dark hours," he said. "You are like, 'I just can't do this anymore. I can't stand. I have to sleep.'
Seeing the families come in and speak is the greatest motivation, Lillis said.
"At around 8 or 9 the next morning, kids from the hospital started showing up and my spirit went from 20 percent to 150," he said.