THON: a word that echo’s through Happy Valley, especially from January to March. THON is not only the largest student run philanthropy in the world geared toward providing financial and emotional support for the families of children with cancer, but it defines Penn State as a university. THON is a yearlong effort, since 1973, that has raised over $145 million in the fight against pediatric cancer. THON is student run, but those students need a leader. This year, THON’s overall director was senior, Austin Sommerer. Since all the heftiness of THON is over for him now, I had the chance to get to know him better to show the world that Austin really is!
HC: How did you get involved in THON?
AS: Growing up, my family was involved in an organization similar to Four Diamonds called Ocean of Love for Children with Cancer in Toms River, NJ, so childhood cancer was always a cause I was passionate about helping to fight. When I came to Penn State I knew THON was an organization I wanted to be a part of, so I quickly sent in my application for a PR Committee and was lucky enough to start my involvement in THON at that level.
HC: What is your favorite THON moment (or moments, I know it’s hard to pick one)?
AS: I definitely have a few at this point. I can share my top two.
1. On a canning trip when I was a sophomore, my group decided to take a break and grab some lunch after a rainy morning standing outside of a diner in Pittsburgh. Shortly after we sat, a man came and sat at our table and started to talk to us. He shared that he wanted to buy our lunch, to which we thanked him and politely declined. He then started to cry, which caught us all off guard. He told us that his nephew in Florida was battling childhood cancer and that he himself was a cancer survivor and he had never had the chance to touch the lives of THON volunteers like we touched his. That was the moment it all clicked for me and I knew I wanted to dedicate as much time as possible to this great organization.
2. The total reveal during this past THON was one of the most incredible moments of my life. Not because of the total itself, but because it was a moment that showed the world that THON will continue to fight and succeed in the face of adversity. It was an incredible feeling having the opportunity to share that feat with our community, and I was so proud to be standing in a room with thousands of people who put our hearts together to have such a huge impact. I wish I had more words to describe it, but it was really incredible.
HC: There’s a rumor about a certain Kardashian staying at your house, if it’s true could you tell the story!
AS: That is true! For the past several summers, I have worked as the Recreation Director for Seaside Heights in Seaside Heights, NJ, and one of my duties was to assist in the coordination of special guests visiting town. One day at work, I got a call that some celebrities were coming to film for a show and that I was going to be spending the rest of my day helping them find fun things to do and places for their cast and crew to stay. After looking at a few places, I shared with the crew that I had a beach house that we rented and it was vacant for the weekend, and after showing, it was just what they were looking for. They quickly moved in with trucks of lighting equipment and actually filmed an episode there. I only got to meet her for a moment, but it was very cool.
HC: What will you take away most from THON/how has it changed you as a person?
AS: THON as an organization and my involvement in it has changed me in ways that are hard to describe. I think the biggest thing I have learned is that when a community comes together with dedication, passion and good intentions, amazing things can happen as a result. I have had the opportunity to see the overwhelming amount of support that is poured into our mission and also the direct results of each and every ounce of effort poured in by so many individuals. I will never forget the good that can come when people join together for the right reasons. I can only hope that every person has the opportunity to see the power of philanthropy and how magnificent this organization really is.
HC: What is something (non THON related) about you that not many people do?
AS: One fun fact is that I am an ordained minister. Also one of my favorite hobbies is running and exercising, which most people would have no idea of since I haven’t quite kept up this hobby and have done nothing but eat hub food since August.
HC: If you could describe your Penn State experience in one sentence what would you say?
AS: This is a tough one. I would say, “I can only hope that every student who attends this University has the opportunity to see how amazing our community really is.”
This year THON raised $10 million all for kids with pediatric cancer. Thanks to Austin and the rest of the volunteers, it wouldn’t have been done without you!