Talia Vespestad put on her first dance shoes when she was 4 years old. Now, a freshman at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI), she continues to dance, both for enjoyment and to help some “kiddos” who aren’t so fortunate.

The 2017 Ballard High School graduate and daughter of Ballard District teachers Corey and Rachel Vespestad, is busy pursuing her degree in communications and working with a student-run organization.

“Dance Marathon is a student organization that raises money and awareness for kiddos with life threatening illness,” Talia explains. “These children are being treated at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. The money that we raise will help families pay for meals in the hospital, parking passes, medication and just about anything that they might need to help them during hard times of hospitalization.”

Talia added that alongside of the financial commitment, the dance group also provides some emotional support so that no family fights alone.

The big event — The Dance Marathon — is just around the corner and the group is continuing to raise funds before the actual dancing begins on March 3. The 12-hour long dance party and celebration already has over 1,000 people registered, with many more expected. The music will be playing and the dancing will take place in the Maucker Union, from noon to midnight. During that time, the participants will not be sitting down or drinking caffeine, because after all, according to Talia, “If kiddos can fight their illnesses, we can go for 12 hours without sitting or caffeine.”

Talia is one of the UNI Dance Marathon’s 40 morale captains for this, the seventh year of the annual event.

“I lead a team of 29 other college students to raise money and awareness for the kiddos we support,” she said. “Throughout the year, we do several fundraisers. Currently we are selling mittens that are made out of sweaters by the Happy Harmony Mittens. We sell them for $20; $19 goes back to our dance marathon and $1 goes back to the Happy Harmony Mittens.”

Mary Brinkman and Sue Kohler of Ames are the Happy Harmony Mittens creators. Brinkman admits that she and Kohler love making mittens out of old sweaters and then the mittens are given to people, usually representing charitable organizations. The organizations then sell the mittens, keep the money and use it for the betterment of people their cause represents.

“My involvement in Dance Marathon is actually nothing,” explained Brinkman. “We were contacted by a member of the UNI executive board with UNI Dance Marathon, and we know that the Dance Marathon raises funds for a good cause. We gave her mittens and she and other Dance Marathon members sold mittens. Obviously Talia is very active in the Dance Marathon and that is great for the world.”

Brinkman said that she and her partner decide on to whom they supply mittens to.

“We talk and share our opinions, and are more inclined to say yes to organizations directly involved in helping people with true needs.” Brinkman added. “We love to make mittens and we have been unbelievably blessed by the people we have met and their passion for their causes. We have the time to do this. If I may quote myself from an article in the December 2017 Good Neighbor Emergency Assistance newsletter: “If everyone who could or should, would, the world would be a better place.”

The proceeds from the sale of mittens will go towards the total fundraising goal for the end of the year.

“Last year, UNI Dance Marathon raised $453,278.06 for the kids,” said Talia. “This year our goal is to raise $500,000. The money we raise this year will go towards getting another transport team to reach kids in need as fast as possible. In other words, we are buying a helicopter.”

Talia is pretty driven to her commitment to help out the kiddos at the University of Iowa. She shares her thoughts:

“We’re all familiar with the sweet faces who wave back to us at the end of the first quarter of Iowa football games! All kids deserve to live their lives in the ways that they choose. Surgeries and doctors’ appointments should not hold kiddos back from experiencing the same opportunities, like many of us were fortunate to have growing up. Every kid deserves to spend Friday nights at football games with friends in the bleachers, or on the playing field. Every kiddo deserves the chance to walk across the stage at their high school graduation. Every kid deserves the opportunity to go to college and meet their best friends. Most of us have been able to experience these exciting things, but some kiddos won’t, and I’ll continue to dance until they do.”

“One of the things I love about Dance Marathon is that I get to continue to dance, but instead of for myself, I get to dance for the kids,” concluded Talia.

If people are interested in purchasing mittens, or making a donation to help the kids, they can email Talia at vespestt@uni.edu for more information. The sale of mittens ends on Feb. 23, but donations will continue to be accepted.