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The participants dance a final time. UGA Miracle hosted its 25th annual Dance Marathon to benefit Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta on Feb. 23, 2020, in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/ Kathryn Skeean, kskeean@randb.com)

It is that time of year again for the UGA Miracle 26.2-hour Dance Marathon. However this year will look a lot different than marathons of the past.

UGA Miracle, the largest student-led philanthropy at the University of Georgia, will host its 26th annual dance marathon on Saturday, Feb. 20 starting at noon. But unlike previous dance marathons, this celebratory fundraising event will take place virtually.

Dance Marathon is UGA Miracle’s annual capstone event. Each year, participants and UGA Miracle families join together for performances, dancing and activities to fundraise money for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

Even though this year UGA Miracles’ Dance Marathon will be completely virtual, the event will still include fun activities like color group wars and live music just as expected from previous years.

“Although COVID-19 has forced UGA Miracle to operate in a heavily virtual setting this year, our fight for the kids has not wavered in the slightest,” UGA Miracle’s Internal Director Alison Pond said in an email. “We are so excited to safely continue making miracles for our hospital!”

While this event usually welcomes over a thousand community members and students, Pond, a senior studying finance, marketing and internal business, said that the UGA Miracle team had to get creative when planning this year’s dance marathon around COVID-19.

A limited amount of UGA Miracle’s leadership and committee members have opted to attend the event in person in the Tate Student Center Grand Hall. Those in-person participants are required to follow strict COVID-19 regulations, as approved by the UGA Miracle Preventative Measures Advisory Board, starting 14 days prior to the dance marathon. These participants agreed to these restrictions prior to accepting in-person invitations, and UGA Miracle also expects all virtual attendees to uphold these requirements as well.

Ryan Belfi, sophomore business management major and Alpha Omicron Pi’s UGA Miracle team leader, has been involved with UGA Miracle since her freshman year. As a member holding a leadership position, Belfi has decided to attend the dance marathon in person.

“I think the main goal is getting everybody ready and letting everybody know how this type of format’s going to go this year,” Belfi said. “And encouraging them to have just as much energy online versus being there.“

Belfi attended the marathon last year and said that she looks forward to taking part in the same festivities even though they will be held online. One of her favorite events is hearing stories from families aided by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

“Families will come and talk about who they are [and] how Children's [Healthcare of Atlanta] has helped them. I bawled my eyes out last year,” Belfi said, “I think that's my favorite part for people who have never been in [UGA] Miracle before because they get to really see where their hard work is going to.”

The rest of the participants will attend virtually to ensure a safe experience for both themselves and UGA Miracle’s leadership and committee members. The virtual attendees will be able enjoy the event’s activities, music, fundraising and family stories safely from their homes.

Pond said in an email that this year’s 26.2-hour dance marathon will take place from Saturday, Feb. 20 at noon to Feb. 21 at 2:12 p.m. The event will be streamed via Zoom and a link will be sent to all registered participants on Friday, Feb. 19.