This story is part of a twice-a-month series called Community Champions, which will feature Illinois FCS programs making a difference in their communities. Have a story idea? Leave a comment below.
Dancing for 12 consecutive hours this spring transformed Tre Hendon.
There was dancing, of course, at the annual Western Illinois University Dance Marathon, a fundraiser for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals in St. Louis.
And there as a bounce house. And tricycles. And kids who loved to play and laugh. Oh, were there laughs.
“I had a life-changing experience,” said Hendon, a sophomore linebacker for the Leathernecks. “I knew what the Dance Marathon was, but I had never been to it. I had a friend invite me.”
After taking part during the spring, Hendon knew he needed to be more deeply connected to the event and its mission.
“I just wanted to be more involved and have a greater impact,” Hendon said. “So I applied for the executive board and I got on as the director of entertainment.”
For the kids
Along with raising pledges this year – his goal is $1,000, more than three times what he raised last year – Hendon is busy finding performers to take part in the event.
“I’m really trying to create a fun-loving, upbeat vibe,” he said. “We want to keep people on their feet. If you start to have any dull moments, that’s when people start to realize how tired they are.”
The annual event takes place from noon to midnight March 30, 2019 in the Grand Ballroom in WIU’s Union.
Participants must stand for the entire 12 hours and caffeine is not allowed.
The 12-hour duration is in honor of physicians and nurses who work 12-hour shifts and the “Miracle Children” who are too sick to stand.
Meeting Miracle Children
Visits by Miracle Children and their families last year was especially touching for Hendon.
“The parents were talking about their children and how the Dance Marathon changes their lives and gives them a fighting chance,” Hendon said.
During the Dance Marathon, though, the kids are just kids. They aren’t defined by their diseases.
“I was playing freeze tag for about 30 minutes with one kid in a bouncy house,” Hendon said. “He was loving it. There was another kid named Levi. He wanted to play cops and robbers on the little tricycles, so I pushed him around for about an hour and a half. He loved every minute of it.”
Along with the games, there are group dances, music and plenty of energy-packed activities.
Being part of the event allows Hendon to fill the same role as the older kids he admired while growing up in Peoria.
“I always looked up to the football players in high school,” he said. “I wanted to see what they were doing and emulate that. I want to be that positive impact in a kid’s life.”
More than just dance
Though there’s plenty of activity for the 12 hours in March, the WIU Dance Marathon is far from a one-day event.
Student leaders plan fundraising events throughout the year to drive attendance to the Dance Marathon and grow interest in the cause. The group has planned fundraising nights at a local McDonald’s and Buffalo Wild Wings in Macomb, along with a Jeans Day and a 5K Color Run.
“We have various fundraisers and we’re always seeking corporate sponsors,” said Hendon, who raised $300 in pledges last year. “We want to constantly highlight what we’re doing. We’re on pace to crush what we did last year.”
In the spring, WIU’s student-run event raised more than $135,000. This year, the goal is $150,000.
With five months still to go, Hendon is the No. 2 individual fundraiser with $736. (To sponsor Hendon, visit his fundraising page.)
Service to others
Being a servant of his community is nothing new to Hendon.
His mother, Constance, and father, Dennis, expected Hendon and his younger brother, Cole, to be involved.
“That’s how I was raised, in the church,” he said.
When he was 14, he volunteered to teach children Bible stories in a unique way.
“We had a puppet ministry for the kids,” he said. “We put on puppet shows to teach them Bible lessons.”
At Peoria Richwoods High School, Hendon was involved in the Best Buddies program and the Night to Shine event, a prom for special-needs students.
“I try to be that positive light in somebody’s life,” Hendon said. “You never know about their home situation – if their dad is there or if their mom is a positive influence.”
Making fans in Macomb
Hendon has enjoyed carrying his community involvement from Peoria to Macomb, where fans embrace the WIU athletes, he said.
“That means the world to me,” he said. “Football players are people too. We go to Wal-Mart. We go out to eat. Once you have conversations with the people coming to see you on Saturdays, then it means a whole lot more.
“You’re not just playing for your family,” he said. “You’re playing for the people in the community where you live and train.”
Hendon and his teammates have even enjoyed some unplanned fun with local families.
“A couple guys on the team have girlfriends who work at day care centers,” he said. “We’ve gone to some kids’ birthday parties. A couple of the kids just said they wanted to have a birthday party with Leatherneck football players.
“That was a lot of fun,” he said. “We went there and supported them and had a good day.”