This year’s Knight-Thon looked a little different than years past, but the year-round, student-led fundraiser still managed the same big impact.

UCF students raised $865,598.60 to benefit local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital, Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. They still revealed the results of their fundraising efforts at the end of their annual 20-hour dance marathon — only instead of coming together “for the kids” at Addition Financial Arena, they flashed their results on individual computer screens.

“UCF students are some of the most determined people I have ever met,” says Zaineb Saied, a nonprofit management student and the executive director of Knight-Thon. “In the face of adversity, time and time again, they choose to stand up for what they believe in and never let things get in their way. Not even a global pandemic can stop them from continuing to Charge On for the kids. This experience proved that.”

“Not even a global pandemic can stop [UCF students] from continuing to Charge On for the kids. This experience proved that.”

When it became evident that COVID-19 would cancel this year’s event, Knight-Thon’s leadership team immediately switched gears to figure out how to recreate a similar party on a virtual platform — and pull off the planning within 10 days.

Saied says she could not be more proud of the result, especially after a challenging and emotionally taxing year.

Last June, one of the executive board members, London Harrell, died in a hit-and-run crash. Shortly after, one of the group’s “Miracle Kids,” who was well known among Knight-Thon participants, died after long-term health complications.

“It felt like the world had gone still,” Saied says. “It was hard to make sense of why this kept happening and how to keep moving. These two members of our Knight-Thon family quickly became everyone’s motivations to do more than we ever had. We worked hard to plan an event that did them both justice in remembering and honoring them.”

Every year, one of the most meaningful moments of the event occurs when a “miracle family” shares their story with the dancers, and everyone is able to cut off the symbolic hospital band on their wrist, which was given to each participant at the start of the marathon.

“It’s a moment that every child in a hospital looks forward to because it normally means they are better and they get to go home,” Saied says. “I was determined to make it virtual.”

Saied’s team designed a graphic that acted as everyone’s virtual hospital band. Participants wrote their names on them and posted to their social media accounts to show they were committed to participating in the marathon.

“We lost one of our Miracle Kids this summer, and something she always dreamed of being able to do was get her hospital band cut off. Her mom, with so much strength and courage, filmed a video for us explaining how Knight-Thon’s dedication to this cause has brought their family so much hope, and how she wished her daughter could’ve been here to see it. It was a really special moment that really showed everyone why Knight-Thon’s work is so important.”