If you happen to be at UCLA this weekend, stop by the Ackerman Grand Ballroom for an inspiring sight: Hundreds of college students will be dancing away from 11 a.m. Saturday until 1 p.m. Sunday to raise money for the Pediatric AIDS Coalition.
"I'm participating in Dance Marathon because I've been told that it's truly one of the most life changing and incredible 26 hours one can experience here," said UCLA freshman Evan Gum, who graduated from Amador Valley High last year.
Gum, who is majoring in biology and minoring in neuroscience, is one of four local students who signed up for the fundraiser, pledging to raise a minimum of $250 for the cause as well as dancing all night. The others are Kelsie Lofand, Jae-Ho Nam and Jack Rogers.
Gum said he's participating "not just for the fun and craziness of dancing 26 hours straight, but because of the incredible people surrounding you doing the same thing all for the same cause."
"I'm excited to be part of another year of fundraising for such a great cause," he added. "I got involved through the Alumni Scholars Club, which is filled with students dedicated to community service as well as their schoolwork."
An undertaking of this size involves more than the dancers.
* "Moralers" work three-hour shifts to keep the dancers on their feet by cheering them on. They have to raise $30 to work a shift.
* "Performers" are an assortment of talented UCLA students who keep the dancers entertained.
* Volunteers keep the event running smoothly.
The dancers not only battle to stay on their feet moving for 26 hours, they also learn more about the disease, meet young children who are affected and celebrate the continuous fight for a cure. This year's Dance Marathon theme is "Illuminate!"
This is the 12th year for the fundraising event.
"So far, we have contributed more than $3 million toward beneficiaries such as the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF); Project Kindle, a free camp for children affected by AIDS; and the UCLA AIDS Institute," said spokesman Elliott Yancy.
The event gets great press coverage in Southern California, said Yancy, has live music and, being in L.A., draws celebrities such as Perez Hilton, James Franco, Kate Flannery and many, many more who visit and entertain the dancers.
"Last year's event united more than 3,000 supporters and raised over $450,000," he said.
UCLA's Pediatric AIDS Coalition is the largest student-run philanthropic organization on the West Coast, Yancy added.
Why pediatric AIDS?
* 45,000 people are living with HIV/AIDS in Los Angeles County.
* 34 million people across the globe are currently living with HIV.
* 2.5 million of them are children under the age of 15.
* 50% of people with HIV/AIDS are not receiving proper care.
* It costs just $19 to test a pregnant women for HIV to take critical steps to prevent transmission of the virus to her child.