Savannah Smith with her mom, Kristin, and brother, Jed, at his last THON in 2009. Savannah is featured in a documentary about the fundraiser that airs
Savannah Smith with her mom, Kristin, and brother, Jed, at his last THON in 2009. Savannah is featured in a documentary about the fundraiser that airs tonight on WITF. (Submitted photo)

Anybody with even a remote connection to Penn State University has likely been to, known someone participating in, or donated to THON.

But for the first time, a behind-the-scenes look will be offered of THON, the IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon supporting families affected by pediatric cancer. It's the largest student-run philanthropy in the world.

Red Lion graduate Savannah Smith will be among those featured in the documentary, which premieres at 8 p.m. Thursday online at wpsu.org. The hour-long documentary will then be posted on video sharing sites YouTube and Vimeo.

"Why We Dance: The Story of THON" will also air on WITF at 9 p.m.

Helping the bereaved: Smith, a University Park visual communication and geography major, has been involved with 11 THON events, dating back to 2002.

That's when her brother, Jed, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic

leukemia. He died eight years later at age 12.

Smith's work last year as the bereaved family's contact and motivational leader is featured in the documentary. She ran a Bereaved Families Workshop as a new part of THON.

"Because of my experience of losing my brother and being close with so many bereaved families, I felt that I had the experience and know-how" to work between THON and families who have lost their children, Smith said.

The documentary will show clips of families discussing those losses. Even as THON celebrates and supports children battling pediatric cancer, Smith said, it's still important to remember those who have died.

"These kids are not physically here with us, but they're traveling this road with us, too," Smith said.

-- Reach Andrew Shaw at ashaw@yorkdis patch.com