Student volunteers with Pancakes for Parkinson’s

John Buttram and Nikhil Panda call themselves the “Captains of Flip.” About an hour into their first shift at the annual Pancakes for Parkinson’s event on the Lawn—when the griddles were hot and the pancake batter had reached the perfect consistency for creativity—the two roommates shared a similar thought: “We don’t have to make regular, round pancakes.”

Buttram (Engr ’11) and Panda (Engr ’11) successfully created a “V-Sabres” pancake, then began pouring the initials of students waiting in line. Soon after, they were crafting pancakes shaped like students’ home states. They have been pleasing the Pancakes for Parkinson’s brunch crowd for three years, wielding spatulas and bowls of batter while raising money for Parkinson’s research.

This sort of innovative thinking—combining fun with philanthropy—has come to characterize student charity at the University. In addition to pancakes, fundraisers use dancing, biking, team sports and other means to support worthy causes on Grounds and beyond.

The Pancakes for Parkinson’s breakfast relies entirely on student support. The breakfast began as an idea in the admissions essay of Mary McNaught Yonkman (Col ’06) as a way to bring students and local community members together over a stack of warm pancakes while raising awareness of the disease.

Since its debut on Grounds in 2004, Pancakes for Parkinson’s has raised more than $150,000 for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. The event was such a success that it has been adopted by the foundation as a national grassroots fundraiser. This year, 23 executive board members and dozens of volunteers mixed 25 cases of pancake batter with 40 pounds of blueberries and 30 pounds of chocolate chips and flipped more than 13,500 pancakes on 11 huge griddles.

Innovative philanthropic events, says Elizabeth Diemer (Col ’11), this year’s Pancakes for Parkinson’s co-chair, “have become part of UVA tradition, and UVA prides itself on tradition.” Students are drawn by the fun but know there’s something greater at work.

“The feeling that goes through you on the day of the breakfast is inexplicable,” says Diemer. “Take a step back, and what you see isn’t a bunch of pancakes, but hundreds of people rallying for a cause. It’s pretty awesome.”

Dance Fever

UVA students are always up for charity with a challenge, as shown by the turnout for the 24-hour Dance Marathon, the University’s largest student-run philanthropy. The event, which is supported by the IFC, Dorm Council and other groups around Grounds, benefits the UVA Children’s Hospital. Participants gather in one of the gyms or ballrooms and dance—or at least stay on their feet—for the entire event. It sounds tough, and it is.

“That discomfort you feel from being on your feet is what the children experience in the hospital every day,” says Edward Buck Hagood (Col ’12), co-chair of the 2011 Dance Marathon.

“You dance because the kids can’t,” adds Jacqueline Churchwell (Com ’11), the other co-chair.

Dance marathoners often visit the hospital to spend time with young patients and their families, and, when possible, bring children to Trick-or-Treat on the Lawn on Halloween. Families and patients also sometimes participate in the dance as well—one 6-year-old boy has been a Dance Marathon regular since he was 2. “His smile and passion inspire our team,” says Churchwell.

The event features teams of dancers dressed to that year’s theme, whether it’s the Magical World of Disney, Vegas or Nickelodeon, and dancers participate in choreographed routines throughout the night. Hourly “morale dances” keep spirits high, and every year, a comical fraternity dance-off transpires. “Student groups make Dance Marathon what they want it to be,” says Churchwell, and this successful blend of fun with charitable spirit “is a strong representative of UVA as a whole.”

Cycling for a Cause

Another event draws on what Sanjay Choudhury (Col ’12) describes as students’ sense of “a real moral obligation to intervene.” Choudhury serves as vice president of financing for Building Tomorrow, an international organization that raises funds to build elementary schools in Uganda.

“It’s mind-boggling,” Choudhury says, “how kids in Uganda do not have access to an education, or even a meal.” During the fundraiser, stationary bikes take over a section of the Lawn for a week, and students gather pledges for the number of miles they pedal—a grand total of 7,354 miles, or the distance from Grounds to Uganda.

Bike to Uganda participants Jane Haley

“Students look to support Africa in a very tangible way,” says Choudhury. Over five years, the UVA chapter of Building Tomorrow has raised more than $50,000—enough to build the Building Tomorrow Academy of Gita, which opened in August. The organization has also inspired Cav Man, in his full Cavalier garb, to pedal a few miles for the cause.

Goal Oriented

While some student groups reach out to communities on the opposite side of the globe, others focus efforts a bit closer to home. For the past 25 years, the Kappa Alpha fraternity has held the Lee Mallette Lacrosse Tournament in memory of Lee Mallette, a pledge who died of heart failure while playing an intramural lacrosse game in 1985. Mallette had played the sport despite knowing he had a congenital heart condition. Dylan Denslow (Com ’12), KA’s philanthropy chairman and director of the tournament, shares Mallette’s love of lacrosse. “It’s something my coaches have always stressed,” he says. “I look at lacrosse as a way to give back.”

The Lee Mallette Lacrosse Tournament

Proceeds go straight to the cause chosen for that year—the 2010 tournament benefitted the pediatric cardiology division of the new Battle Building at the UVA Children’s Hospital. The tournament raised more than $3,000 last year and continues to grow as students, alumni, local community members and even club teams from other colleges and universities unite to support a cause through camaraderie and tradition. Honoring Mallette through the fun of the game is the pulse of the tournament, says Denslow. “If it’s not fun, then I’ve failed as a chairman.”