VALPARAISO | Olivia Pierce, 7, stood in front of more than 400 Valparaiso University students on Saturday and shared a special message.
“We can dance for kids who can't,” she said to students gathered in the Hilltop Gym.
The Hobart girl helped kick off the university's second annual Dance Marathon, which raised money for Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, one of the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.
Students rocked out to a variety of tunes and played games during the eight-hour marathon in which they weren't allowed to sit down.
VU raised $10,000 last year and hopes to surpass that this year, said Carrie Whittier, assistant dean of students. The money will support research, education, prevention and the Family Life Center at Lurie Children's Hospital, said Julie Troyer, development officer at Lurie.
Olivia Pierce was diagnosed at 3 months old with bilateral retinoblastoma, a rare type of eye cancer that develops in early childhood. Over the years, she's had 35 eye surgeries, and she wears a prosthetic eye.
Her mom, Shannon, said they participate in a variety of fundraisers for the children's network hospitals as a way to give back. Olivia is being treated at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, she said.
“We know there are kids just like her, and we want to show our support,” Shannon said.
VU sophomore Meagan McCarver had a personal connection with the event. McCarver, of Monticello, Ind., said she was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 3 and was treated at Riley Hospital.
She is majoring in nursing and hopes to work as a pediatric nurse when she graduates, she said.
VU junior Lauren Robinson, of Manteno, Ill., is majoring in public relations and would like to work in that capacity at a children's hospital.
“I always felt like it was my calling,” she said.