As the winter days grow longer and the sky over the hilltop turns a snowy gray, there is at least one ray of sunshine shining brightly on Blair–Taryn Garriques. At weekly School Meetings, members of the Dance Marathon Club frequently share Taryn’s video messages with the student body at Blair, and it is clear from them that the 13 year old has much she can teach others.
Taryn, the sister of Bryson ’19 and Kiara Garriques ’23, has been through a lot in her short life. Her mother, Kathleen, gave birth at just 30 weeks, and Taryn was diagnosed with periventricular leukomalacia, a disorder associated with cerebral palsy that would prevent her from walking. At age five, Taryn underwent a surgical procedure to address problematic nerve roots in the spinal cord and she received many weeks of intensive therapy at a Children’s Miracle Network Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey, beginning her road to recovery. When Taryn was nine, she endured another extensive surgery to improve her gait and she again entered Children’s Specialized Hospital for intensive therapy. Today, Taryn is a happy and well-adjusted seventh grader, who walks with the assistance of braces and shares her story of overcoming life’s challenges with a sunny mix of grace and strength.
Since 2018, Blair’s Dance Marathon Club has held an annual dance to benefit Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, an organization that supports medical care like Taryn’s and raises funds for almost 200 children’s hospitals across the nation. The dance marathons, held by secondary schools and universities across the nation, help students gain valuable leadership experience through the event-planning process and allow them to assist children like Taryn. “Donating to the dance marathon at Blair helps children who can’t afford these procedures get them,” Taryn explained to the student body.
To date, such marathons have raised over $300 million. Dancing the night away in the Chiang-Elghanayan Center for Innovation and Collaboration on December 11, Taryn and over 200 Blair students participated in this year’s event, raising over $5,000. Dance planner Kenna Hadden ’23 was delighted when the fundraising total was announced that evening. “At that point, so many people had worked hard, creating individual fundraising pages [online], selling T-shirts and bracelets and getting the word out. To get such a big response felt amazing,” she said.
While the dance marathon offered students a terrific service opportunity, it also came after a long week of studying for finals and provided the chance to relax and unwind. “This dance raises money for a great cause,” added Allie Roecker ’23, one of the event’s organizers, “but it’s also a great outlet for students.”
In addition to packing the dance floor, students sampled a variety of activities at the event. Some settled at tables to design cards for pediatric hospital patients, relaying messages of inspiration, encouragement and hope to children facing incredible challenges. Other students crowded around Santa, snapping selfies, or faced off against friends in a “Just Dance” showdown. Meanwhile, others decorated gingerbread houses, holding the roof with one hand while nibbling gumdrop bushes with the other. “The whole night was really fun,” Allie said.
The event was organized under the guidance of history teacher Joanne Brandwood and English teacher Kaye Evans, who also coordinate Blair’s Day of Service and seasonal food pantry program. They noted how amazing it was to see the students so passionate about a cause. “This is a wonderful event to do around the holidays–students raise awareness for an important cause, and they have fun while giving back,” said Mrs. Evans. “It was a remarkable night.”
Event organizer Kiara Garriques ’23, who has seen firsthand with her sister how transformative first-rate hospital care can be, feels that the dance for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals is more than just another event at Blair. It has become a new tradition that brings classmates together for a marvelous cause. “We are absolutely going to do this again next year,” she promised. “It feels great to be making a difference.”