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Dance of Hope

HDFS Student Helping Families Navigate ‘Terrifying Path’ of Pediatric Illness

At the end of the 2023 OttoTHON, the organizers revealed to all the participants and the children and their families in attendance the total amount of money that OttoTHON raised for Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital. “A majority of our executive board members are unaware of the total amount we raised until this moment of the marathon, so it is a very special and emotional moment for all involved,” Grace Brashears says.

Why Falk College? And why OttoTHON?

For Grace Brashears, the answer to both questions is the same: She has dedicated her life to helping children and their families “while they walk the terrifying path that is pediatric illness.”

Brashears is a double major at Falk (human development and family science, and public health) who’s working toward becoming a certified child life specialist. In that role, Brashears will help children and families navigate the process of illness, injury, disability, trauma, and hospitalization.

But Brashears is helping children and their families even before she graduates in 2025. The junior from Holland, Michigan, was recently named the youngest executive director in the 10-year history of OttoTHON, Syracuse University’s 12-hour dance marathon that raises money for Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital, which is adjacent to campus.

“It’s quite an honor,’’ says Matthew Mulvaney, associate professor and undergraduate director of the Department of Human Development and Family Science (HDFS). “This will be a wonderful representation of Syracuse values and an important show of support for children managing these challenges.”

OttoTHON is a part of a larger international movement of students fighting for a future without childhood illness. Hundreds of Dance Marathon programs throughout North America raise funds and awareness for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. In recent years, OttoTHON has raised more than $100,000 a year for Golisano.

Grace Brashears Headshot

Grace Brashears

In a recent meeting with her HDFS faculty advisor and mentor, Professor of Practice Colleen Cameron, Brashears mentioned that she had been named executive director. Happy and excited for Brashears and how her work with OttoTHON reflects the social justice values of HDFS and Falk, Cameron asked Brashers to write a reflection about her appointment that Cameron could share with the department leadership.

We also asked Brashears to share her reflection with the wider Falk and Syracuse University communities. Here’s what she wrote:

“Throughout the year, OttoTHON plans and runs various small events, fundraising pushes, and support initiatives for the children and families who have been treated at Upstate Golisano. All of this leads to our large event in the spring, our 12-hour Dance Marathon. This 12-hour party is a celebration of all the kids and families who have and currently are walking the path of pediatric illness. Throughout this event, we play games, eat food, watch performances from several student groups, fundraise, hear stories from staff and families at the hospital, and, of course, dance.

“This year, I have the absolute honor of being the executive director for OttoTHON! After being a part of the OttoTHON Leadership Program as a first-year student and serving as the first-year recruitment co-chair on the executive board last year, I am thrilled to be able to step into this role during my junior year here at Syracuse.

“Pediatric illness is something that I have always been highly passionate about. Since I started the mini-dance marathon program at my high school (Holland Christian High School), my biggest ‘why’ for being a part of this movement is to ensure that no child or family ever has to feel that they are alone while they walk the terrifying path that is pediatric illness. Programs like Dance Marathon offer an opportunity for the local community to help fill the gaps in healthcare today through the funds they raise and the support they offer. This ‘why’ brought me to Syracuse University to pursue my degrees in human development & family science and public health with the goal of becoming a certified child life specialist.

Two students are posed on a stage

Grace Brashears with Ronny Ditchek ’23 at the 2023 OttoTHON. As first-year recruitment co-chairs last year, they recruited first-year students to the organization and led OttoTHON’s first-year leadership program.

“As executive director, I oversee the organization and set the top priorities and goals for OttoTHON; manage and ensure that initiatives, fundraisers, and events run successfully; and assist in whatever capacity is needed. I also serve as a liaison to Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital, the Syracuse University community, the greater Syracuse community, Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, and other key partners. My ultimate responsibility and personal goal as executive director are to be sure OttoTHON does absolutely everything we can to ensure that the families we work with know there is a group of passionate Syracuse University students across the street from them who will do everything in our power to do anything that will make this journey even the tiniest bit easier for them.

“I believe it is vital for Syracuse University students to get involved in experiences that will get them into the local Syracuse community in a way that benefits the members of that community. As an out-of-state student, it can be easy to look at Syracuse, New York, as just Syracuse University; this is why it is essential to know that Syracuse is an entire community of people that goes far beyond the University. OttoTHON is a great way to begin to do this.

“If anyone is interested in joining the internal side of OttoTHON at this time, they can apply to be a part of a committee (applications coming out soon), or our new Team Captain program! If anyone is looking to participate but not be a part of the planning side of things, they can participate in the various small events we hold on campus, donate to the hospital through OttoTHON’s Donor Drive page, or register through our donor drive to be a dancer (participant) at our main event this spring! For more information on where to sign up, donate, or any other questions, please follow us on our Instagram @ottothon or email me at

In addition to her OttoTHON activities, Grace Brashears ’25 is a Falk College student ambassador, Falk research assistant, Syracuse University orientation leader, and a member of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority.