Rutgers University Dance Marathon: Embracing the Journey

Two years ago, Matthew Ramina was making plans to attend Rutgers as a first-year Honors College student, but his life took an unexpected turn when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

While the cancer diagnosis challenged Matthew and his family and delayed his enrollment, they also found unexpected support from the New Brunswick-based Embrace Kids Foundation – which covered the daunting nonmedical costs associated with his successful treatment – and a network of student support provided through the Rutgers University Dance Marathon (RUDM) organization.

“Cancer doesn’t discriminate – it can happen to anyone at any time in their life or situation. To have not one, but two organizations like the Embrace Kids Foundation and RUDM, offer such support and love at such a difficult time in my life inspires me,” said Matthew, now a first-year Honors College student studying computer science at the School of Arts and Sciences. “This experience has made me want to give back to them and to help make life better for others wherever I can.”

Matthew, along with thousands of other Rutgers students, will do just that beginning this Friday at RUDM, the largest student-run philanthropic event in New Jersey – no sitting, no sleeping allowed. A member of the Honors College Dance Marathon Team, Matthew and his teammates have raised more than $11,000 so far and will dance in 12-hour shifts. The Ramina family will also be joining for the RUDM Family Hour Saturday evening where they will reunite with those who supported them during Matthew’s treatment.

Since 1999, RUDM has raised more than $6.9 million dollars with a record $1 million+ last year alone. One-hundred percent of the money goes directly to Embrace Kids, and throughout the year, RUDM actively raises funds and provides a support system for children and their families through Rutgers fraternities, sororities and other organizations.

This is a special year for RUDM as it celebrates 20 consecutive years of students coming together for children in the tristate area. “We are so proud of the many young men and women who selflessly give their time and talents to this project. Raising funds for Embrace Kids is a big part of Dance Marathon’s mission. But equally important are the relationships they build with our patient families. That combination has helped this project to grow and continue to impact our students and the kids of the Embrace Kids Foundation,” said JoAnn Arnholt, dean of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs at Rutgers. 

This year also marks a special reunion for the original founders of Rutgers Dance Marathon in 1971. Forty-seven years ago, Zeta Beta Tau (ZBT) fraternity brothers Steve Gerber, Bruce Goldman, Richie Goldman, Bob Mannis, Lou Scholnik, Bob Schultz and Erwin Shustak, along with Douglass College student Hannah Gonski (Goldman), organized the first-ever dance marathon at Rutgers. ZBT continued its event for 16 years, which grew to include students from across Rutgers-New Brunswick and Douglass College, and ultimately raised over $700,000.

Alumnus Richie Goldman, a Bay Area resident and co-founder of Men’s Wearhouse, is looking forward to reuniting with his college crew at this weekend’s dance marathon. He said the group organized the event because they were “looking for something new to do.” He said the first marathon took place in the spring of ’71 at the old RU barn, which was packed most of that weekend. “We never expected that our dance marathon would be such a success – we raised $18,000 in support of The American Cancer Society that night and carried the donations down to Campus Patrol in a footlocker,” Goldman said. “To see what RUDM has grown into makes me extremely proud. It feels great to know that I was part of something that is now a major part of Rutgers.” 

Matthew Ramina

Matthew Ramina

The marathon returned to Rutgers in 1999, when its leadership was taken over by  Dean Arnholt and Interfraternity and Panhellenic Council presidents Tony Solimine and Nicole Ahmed – that year they raised $113,000. In 2000, RUDM formed a lasting relationship with the Embrace Kids Foundation, connecting Rutgers to the community in a deep and abiding way. With a strong foundation, RUDM has taken place every year since.

From where Matthew stands today – ready to dance for the benefit of others as others danced for him – the marathon is a chance to express his gratitude and give back. “I can’t wait to join with my fellow Rutgers students to pay it forward for other families in our community who are going through tough times.”

Contributions to the event can be made on the marathon’s website until Saturday at 5 p.m. and through the Embrace Kids Foundation at any time.

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