OwlThon’s 10 Years: The Organization’s Path to Success

OwlThon is a nonprofit organization at FAU that works yearlong to fundraise for children’s miracle network hospitals by collaborating with the UF Shands hospital to ensure that young patients and their families have everything they need.


Courtesy of OwlThon.

Isabella Visbal, Contributing Writer

OwlThon, an FAU-based organization, is approaching its 10-year anniversary, which it will celebrate during its annual 13.1-hour dance marathon. Throughout this event, the total amount of money raised in the entire year is announced, among other festivities like “themed hours” for the kids since patients and their families come to spend this time with the FAU community. During its 10 years, OwlThon has exponentially seen a lot of growth. 

During the first year of fundraising, they raised $6,000 in 2014. The following week year, they raised $66,000. Since then, they have continued to grow and overcome unexpected challenges while still completing their mission of being the change that they want to see in the world. Sivon Tal, OwlThon’s marketing and publicity director, describes OwlThon’s success by sharing how becoming more prominent in the FAU community and beyond has helped in increasing involvement.

OwlThon wouldn’t have the level of success it’s achieved without the involvement of the student body. Essentially, the organization is made up of groups, or smaller clubs, and organizations that individually fundraise and give their earnings back to OwlThon. At FAU, some of the communities involved consist of greek organizations, the community service club, the equestrian club, and the men’s soccer team. 

All of these organizations are invited to “mini marathons” and “push days” held by OwlThon to keep the motivation going and share support. These events are held on campus and serve as a preview of what the actual marathon will look like. They encourage participation and celebrate the fundraising progress being made. At the end of the marking period of fundraising, the organizations are invited to the dance marathon. On the other hand, you can also fundraise individually and also participate in the marathon if you raise at least $110.

Courtesy of OwlThon.

The support of those affiliated with OwlThon never fails to be seen, and Executive Director Ivanna Bonilla shares a historic milestone that exceeded expectations. According to Bonilla, in 2018, a miracle patient known as Kirystn was put on a life-sustaining machine during OwlThon’s marathon.

“OwlThon set a goal to raise over $200,000 to buy an ECMO machine. That year OwlThon surpassed that goal and raised over $240,000,” said Bonilla

Seeing the passion that’s developed in the hearts of other supporters will forever feel like another huge accomplishment for the OwlThon family, especially after three hard years of COVID-19 restraints. 

In 2020, the marathon was canceled as a precaution for the health and safety of patients and their families, which was OwlThon’s biggest concern. Still, they were able to fundraise $119,193.28 that year. 

Trying their hardest to keep the organization alive and the funds coming in for the pediatric patients during this time was one of the biggest obstacles that OwlThon pushed through, and following this occurrence was a “post-COVID” environment, in which the organization slowly tried to bring back the dance marathon. 

In 2021, the marathon came back with the participants wearing masks and keeping social distance. The marathon that took place in 2022 had fewer restrictions, but the uncertainty with the situation took a toll on the OwlThon family as it “didn’t feel like it was in person,” says Tal. 

The dance marathon has a lot of misconceptions about it. For instance, it’s not essentially a dance marathon where participants dance for 13.1 hours straight. It actually just has that name because its founder associated dancing with the emotion of happiness and celebration, and with the hopes of bringing people together. For OwlThon, it’s all of those things as well as a “final push to raise as much money for the hospital as possible,” said Bonilla.

Bonilla has been OwlThon’s director since the past summer semester and shares that because of her significant position in the organization. 

It is a bit daunting to have the pressures of an anniversary year on your plate,” she said. 

However, Bonilla feels honored and privileged to be in charge of such an important event in the organization’s history. 

To celebrate these 10 years, and work hard for many more to come, Bonilla says her biggest plans for OwlThon’s success consist of developing a larger and even more engaged base of supporters, like for example working closely with Somerset Canyons High School which recently became affiliated with the organization.

Courtesy of OwlThon.

She also wants to create an environment in which team members and alumni form certain levels of involvement with this work by reminding them “that it’s for life, not four years,” in other words, advocating for their presence and participation even after they graduate. 

Another way in which OwlThon executives plan to drive the organization forward is by getting people engaged and excited to participate. Tal shares that the organization’s Instagram account is a huge factor when it comes to communicating with members and showing interest. She says she plans to work harder by bringing people together through social media and helping them take advantage of networking opportunities. 

There are several ways to get involved with OwlThon and be a part of the plan that both of these executive directors have, one small donation could be the start of an “experience you’ve never felt before”, as Tal describes her time at OwlThon. In order to begin this journey, you can reach out to OwlThon via their Instagram, and register in the Donor Drive in order to pledge to fundraise. 

It truly doesn’t matter in which ways you show your support, whether you donate $1,000 and go to the marathon, simply show up and support small community events or walk up to OwlThon’s table in the Breezeway, your interest makes a big difference and could end up saving a children’s life. You can get started right now and be the change you want to see in the world by emailing Ivanna Bonilla at [email protected]

As Tal puts it, getting involved with an organization that works so closely with the lives of young children will “push your limits,” but it’s the best opportunity to “be a part of something bigger than yourself.”

Isabella Visbal is a contributing writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or DM on Instagram @isabellavisbal