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N.J. native helps lead world’s largest student-run philanthropy — one selfless step at a time

[Aug. 7, 2020: Jersey's Best]

The word philanthropy means a love of humanity. For New Jerseyan Samantha Koon, her involvement in philanthropy efforts have shaped her college experience and changed her life.

A native of Parsippany, Koon is a student at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pa. Koon recently finished her bachelor’s in English and is continuing her studies by pursuing a Master of Arts in Educational Theory and Policy. Her choice to attend Penn State came after visiting the school and falling in love with the campus and the community.

“I just knew that I would be able to come here and just get whatever I wanted out of my experience,” Koon said. “I knew that it was a place where I could see myself grow.”

When she entered college, her high school involvement in philanthropy with Habitat for Humanity led her to join the organization, THON. The largest student-run pilanthropy in the world, THON is dedicated to enhancing the lives of children and families who have been impacted by childhood cancer.

Now in her fifth year at Penn State, Koon is the public relations director for THON.


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“When I kind of stumbled upon THON, I knew that I had found a home in Penn State,” Koon said. “It has just really grown into more than that, it has become a lifelong passion. I see myself being involved not just during my time at Penn State but far beyond that.”

As public relations director, Koon is part of THON’s 17-member executive committee. She manages a public relations team of 26 captains with niche positions that range from social media to production to photography. Overall, there are 300 captains and a few thousand committee members involved in THON.

THON is made up of yearlong events on the campus of Penn State, including a THON 5K and a THON Family Carnival, that help the organization fundraise and spread awareness. It culminates in a 46-hour dance marathon in February with over 700 people standing in Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center with no sitting or sleeping to support the families. THON donates $0.91 of every dollar raised to its sole beneficiary, Four Diamonds, raising nearly $11.7 million in 2020 alone.

“I immediately fell in love with our mission to support our families, not only financially because our fundraising covers all the medical expenses, but just the emotional support that we provide for them during their treatment and past their treatment as well,” Koon said.

THON’s famous motto, “For The Kids,” reminds the students of their core mission, despite the hardships that may occur in trying to raise money and work to plan the event.

“We sign off all of our emails with ‘For The Kids’ and it’s a phrase that we’re always using,” Koon said. “It’s just a constant reminder that we’re working toward something related to THON, something that can help these families get through their treatment and help these children have childhoods.”

When asked about the most impactful memory of THON, Koon shared memories of her first THON in February 2017, when she had been standing for nearly 30 hours. During the final four hours of THON weekend, Koon said there is more structure to the event, with a set time for the families to share their stories.

“We have an hour dedicated to family speakers and they talk of some of their experiences,” Koon said. “Some of them had a child who survived, some have a child who they have lost, so it’s really impactful to hear from them. There’s also an ‘Angels’ video where we show pictures, quotes and video clips of those that we have lost along the way. It is so empowering as a reminder to know that our fight is not over.”..... Read More


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