Every year, the Rutgers University Dance Marathon (RUDM) fundraises “for the kids” — specifically, for the Embrace Kids Foundation in New Brunswick.
The foundation, which is located next to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, is a nonprofit organization that provides for the non-medical needs of kids with cancer, blood disorders or other serious diseases and long-term health conditions, said Becky Gilbert, a School of Arts and Sciences senior and director of Family Relations for RUDM.
This means that the foundation provides services such as transportation to and from clinical appointments, tutoring for students and financial support such as mortgages and car payments.
“You don’t automatically think of it when someone is diagnosed with a serious illness, but all these repercussions are so real and any way to lighten the burden for families (is helpful),” she said.
Armaan Saxena, a Rutgers alumnus and manager of Programs and Family Relations at Embrace Kids, said he is committed to solving problems that families come into. The foundation was also very close to the medical team, donors and volunteers at RUDM.
“The student leaders and participants make a big difference for families,” he said.
Glenn Jenkins, the executive director of Embrace Kids, added that the foundation works with student leaders from RUDM all year round. Other than the actual dance marathon, the foundation also hosts events such as walks, where participants raise money by walking a certain distance, and dinner events, where people register to get sponsorship opportunities.
Jenkins said Embrace Kids also has corporate sponsors, from large businesses such as ShopRite to local businesses such as Hansel ‘n Griddle.
The history of Embrace Kids dates back to 1991, when Robert Wood Johnson, along with a nurse, doctor, parent of a child being treated, local restaurant owner and local businessperson came together to start a bake sale in the hospital. Jenkins said that first fundraiser garnered a couple of hundred dollars, and started to grow over the years through word of mouth as people began inviting their friends and families.
In his 15 years of experience as director, Jenkins said he has been able to see the organization grow, as well as RUDM, which has been a dynamic and life-changing experience for him. He has also seen infants who have received aid from the foundation grow and graduate high school.
Gilbert said compared to other dance marathons across the country, RUDM was unique because the charity they were supporting was located right in New Brunswick, so volunteers could see firsthand the effects of their fundraising.
As part of RUDM, Embrace Kids has an RU4Kids program that pairs up organizations such as clubs, fraternities and sororities with a patient being assisted by the foundation.
“It’s like a big brother-little brother, big sister-little sister program,” she said.
For instance, according to a “stall story” located in the bathrooms of the Rutgers Athletic Center, one of the kids being sponsored is named Noely, who has been partnered with the sorority Phi Sigma Sigma.
“Through her battle with sickle cell, the Phi Sig sisters have consistently visited her during treatment, planned fun events for her and attended Embrace Kids parties with her to ensure that she feels the full love of the Embrace Kids and RUDM family,” the pamphlet said.