Suffield Academy dance-a-thon raises $40,000 for Petit Family Foundation

Published: Wednesday, February 22, 2012, 5:13 AM

By Kathryn Roy 

SUFFIELD - Suffield Academy students, faculty and alumni have raised more than $40,000 for the Petit Family Foundation, which will distribute funds in honor of Suffield alumnus Henry Thevenin, a member of the Class of 2010 who died from leukemia last year. 

The students raised the money in the annual dance-a-thon held in January; the event was started in 2005 as a way to donate to worthy charitable causes. 

The dance-a-thon started at 10 p.m. and went through the night at the academy’s Brewster Hall. With the help of a professional disc jockey, students held dance contests, singing contests and special performances and activities. 

“There’s no requirement for how many hours they have to be on the dance floor, but at any given time, three-quarters of the students are out on the dance floor,” said Elise Riegel, one of the organizers of the event. 

Riegel, former dean of faculty and academic dean at Suffield, helped start the dance-a-thon in 2005 with a group of students. She said they were honored to host Dr. William Petit, who lost his wife and two daughters in a tragic home invasion and murder at their home in Cheshire, Conn., in 2007. 

“His comments to the community were both gracious and inspiring,” Riegel said. “During his live television interview at the dance-a-thon, Dr. Petit spoke about the goals of the Petit Family Foundation moving forward, and Suffield Academy is delighted to be among the first to help in this new phase.” 

Riegel said she and her husband were so inspired by a similar dance-a-thon at Pennsylvania State University when they were graduate students there that they pitched it to the senior class at Suffield Academy when they began working here. 

“They were really interested,” she said. “Ever since, it’s built momentum. Now, it’s a mainstay in the culture.” 

The idea behind the dance-a-thon is to raise awareness and help students get behind a cause. In the fall, organizers ask for nominations from students, faculty and alumni for worthy charitable groups. The nominations are then narrowed down into a group of finalists. 

“Every year we want to have a diverse slate: some that are local, some that are national or international, some large and some small,” Riegel said. “The finalists make a pitch to the faculty and the student body.” 

Students research the various causes and then make their pick. Over the past several years, causes have focused on poverty remediation, autism, people with disabilities, and cancer research. 

Riegel said students liked the mission of the Petit Family Foundation. 

“They want to raise awareness about violence, they give to educational initiatives and they give to those affected by chronic illness,” she said. 

Riegel said while the Petit children, Hayley and Michaela, did not attend Suffield Academy, Hayley attended another Connecticut prep school. 

“This was a family much like the families they come from, so it hits very close to home for them,” she said. 

“It’s a huge community builder,” Riegel said. “The whole community comes together and celebrates the power of this particular experience. The kids, I think, learn first-hand that one person can make a difference.” 

Over the past eight dance-thons, Suffield Academy has raised more than $300,000 for various charitable causes. 

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