Dream Forward: Shiloh, Caroline, and Cris’s dream
by Hanna Bernett

Shiloh Crimmel is an energetic four-year-old girl who loves to play sports outside with her big sister, Harper. When Shiloh was two, she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Upon starting treatment at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital, the Crimmel family was supported by Four Diamonds. Shiloh became a THON Child and is currently paired with the Penn State Lionettes, who make the family feel “so welcome and loved.” Shiloh wants to be a teacher just like both of her parents when she grows up. 

Shiloh’s dream of teaching begins to take shape through Caroline Turner, a Communications Captain studying Early Childhood Education and Social Justice in Education. Caroline hopes to teach in Pennsylvania for a few years after graduation, then eventually move out west and continue teaching. 

“I dream of being an educator because I will have the opportunity to guide students to critically question the world around them and advocate for change,” Caroline explained, “I will be able to create a safe space for both students and families within the classroom. I dream of inspiring passion and joy in children, and I cannot wait to enter the field of education.”  

Caroline’s experience with THON has helped to shape her path as a future educator. “As a THON Volunteer, I have had the opportunity to build relationships with many different people, including other volunteers, alumni, and families. Each interaction within the THON Community teaches me something new about the importance of connection. This is the main role of a teacher: to create connections with students. Also, in my current position as a Communications Captain, I am developing initiatives to increase the diversity, equity, and inclusion of THON. The experience that I am gaining within this role will help in the creation of an equitable classroom in the future.” 

While Caroline continues to prepare herself for the influential career she dreams of, her aspirations have already been achieved by Cris Guenter, a Penn State alumni with over four decades of experience as a teacher. Cris currently lives in California, and she danced in the very first Interfraternity council Dance Marathon in 1973, which she describes as a “worthy challenge”.  

“I was a freshman at Penn State when (my partner) Sam and I won. Within months of that, I had enrolled in a dual degree program at Penn State. I worked on Campus Patrol, became a Resident Assistant in Beam Hall, and graduated on schedule in 1976, successfully completing everything including my teaching certification,” Cris recalled.  

Cris Guenter and her partner Sam Walker at the very first dance marathon in 1973, held in the HUB Ballroom. A different live band played every two hours.

Like Caroline, Cris credits THON with preparing her for her dream career in education. “Winning that dance marathon with Sam Walker gave me confidence, determination, and resilience. It helped to shape the educator I have become. The willingness to try and that ‘can do’ attitude has stayed with me for over 43 years of teaching K-university students and adults. It is something that I try to model and pass on to all my students, many who are now teachers and professors in their own right.” 

In reflecting on her THON experience and the decades since, Cris expressed her amazement at how far THON’s mission has expanded. “When Sam and I and the other 38 couples danced in 1973 for the kids in Butler, PA, we had no idea that the humble weekend beginnings of what would become THON would also become the largest student-run philanthropy in the world. All of us involved in 1973 were happy to help those kids. That has not changed. What has changed is the magnitude, outreach, and the systematic year-long scope to raise money in multiple ways. THON is so impressive and impactful. Penn State pride and appreciation go out to all the alumni and students who have contributed over the years!” 

In its 50th year, THON continues to propel dreams forward. Children, students, and alumni alike have all experienced THON as a place where they are free to broaden their horizons, think deeply about themselves and others, and cultivate a perspective of hope to take with them into the world. THON is much more than just a fundraiser; it is a place where dreams become reality.