It was a secretive effort in the works for weeks. And when the day arrived to reveal a surprise for their three children, Kelly and Larry Kissinger of Goshen, Indiana, say their plot unfolded just as planned.
“We blindfolded them, so they had no idea,” laughs Kelly, as she recalls that emotional day in December. The three children, Jill, Louis and Leah, were all home for Christmas. The youngest, Jill, is a junior at Purdue University. The parents' plan was to pay tribute to all three children and their years in leadership roles with Purdue University Dance Marathon, the largest student-run philanthropic organization on Purdue’s campus.
“The pride they put into it, that’s all they would talk about, was Dance Marathon,” says Larry. “It’s just really rewarding to see your kids become passionate about something that’s good for others.”
So on that chilly morning, the stage was set. As they emerged from the family van, the blindfolds were removed, and everyone gathered across the street from Riley Hospital. Mom and dad unveiled a red Riley wagon inscribed with the license plate number “4RILEYKIDS” and the message, “The Kissinger Kids will forever dance for the Riley Kids! Stay strong and fight!
Red wagons are synonymous with Riley and are used by thousands of families each year to transport kids throughout the hospital. But they’re much more than a means of transportation. The wagons represent Riley’s family-centered approach to care.
Individuals have the opportunity to personalize a wagon license plate by making a gift of $2,500 to Riley Children’s Foundation. Companies, organizations and schools can also participate in the wagon naming program.
For the Kissingers, the gesture was the perfect way to celebrate their children’s Dance Marathon service. The unveiling was an emotional moment for all. The family shed tears, shared memories, and reflected on what the Purdue University Dance Marathon experience meant to them.
For student leaders and participants, Dance Marathon is a labor of love. Students raise money for Riley year-round through activities like peer-to-peer fundraising, special events, silent auctions, walks and runs, galas, and alumni events. It all culminates with a celebratory Dance Marathon where participants stay awake and on their feet in honor of supporting Riley kids. In a typical year, some 75 collegiate and high school Dance Marathons raise more than $7 million for Riley.
And Purdue University Dance Marathon is one of the biggest such organizations. It has raised more than $1 million in previous years and – despite the pandemic – generated $771,000 last year. All told, the student-run organization has raised an astounding $9.7 million for Riley since its founding in 2005. Jill, Louis and Leah Kissinger have helped lead that charge – each serving on the group’s executive committee in pivotal roles.
“Just the emotional energy they put in, the camaraderie they had with friends and those they were in charge of leading – we saw how they put their heart and soul into that,” their mom, Kelly, says.
The Kissingers say they are pleased their funding of a Riley wagon will add to the legacy of their children’s accomplishment.
We certainly have been very blessed with our kids,” Kelly says. “Knowing that we can help in a small way to give another family something to look forward to when their child picks out a wagon is special. As it was described to us, the kids don’t always get to choose what goes on in their life when they’re sick and struggling with an illness. So being able to see the wagons, and to get to pick whatever wagon they want, it’s a little bit of joy.”
“Hopefully, we can just know that we’ve been a little ray of sunshine for somebody on a certain day,” says Larry. “Whether it be siblings wheeling each other around, or whatever the case may be, we’re doing something nice for somebody at Riley.”
Learn more about the Riley Wagon naming program. To speak with a gift officer about naming a wagon, please call 317.634.4474.
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