By: Andrea Poppiti
Coming into college, I knew that I wanted to get involved on campus, mostly to avoid becoming completely consumed with academics, which was a dark and dangerous path to life as a hermit. What I did not know was that this journey of successes, hardships, and, most importantly, leadership, would change the way I thought about myself as an individual as well as a team member. It was during the fall of my freshman year that I first discovered Rutgers Dance Marathon through my roommate. One afternoon, she came back to our dorm and told me about DM and how I could support children with cancer and blood disorders by volunteering for 5 hours and raising $100. Needless to say, I was sold.
As the years progressed and I became more involved with Dance Marathon, I learned lessons about leadership that I had never anticipated. As someone who typically hated group projects and preferred to do most things independently, I found it difficult to accept the fact that teamwork is more integral to the organization’s function than any individual work could ever be. The Dance Marathon organizational structure is designed so that each individual works as one small part of a larger team, and that larger team contributes just one aspect of what the Marathon eventually fulfills. We operate on a consensus system, there is no president or boss, and we often find ourselves collaborating and relying on each other. Essentially, you have to work well with your 31 fellow teammates to get anything accomplished.
The impact of teamwork could not have been more apparent as it was on April 7th this past spring. As the DM staff stood onstage and revealed that this year’s efforts had raised over half a million dollars, I looked into the crowd of over 1,000 people who were crying, smiling, and yelling as much as I was. I could not help but think that I had personally contributed only about 0.2% of that $500,000 total. Though I had spent the past year planning it, this was their event just as much as it was mine, if not more so. I looked at the stage and layout of the College Avenue Gym, the catering area where food was served, the Embrace Kids patient families, and the 1,000 participants. None of that was there because of my individual efforts, and more importantly, there was no way one individual could have planned such a meaningful and successful event. While I was one of Dance Marathon’s “leaders”, this event was not about me, and most people there had no idea who I was, as it should be. The event was about the families we support and the participants who attend, and the staff members are just the people lucky enough to plan it. Working with Dance Marathon has taught me that if you have the right intentions, leadership is selfless, and that if you believe in something enough, you will put faith in others to support you as you support them. It may be hard to give up power and work as a team member, but the hard work and collaboration of my teammates are the only reasons we have an event at all. Working with a 32-member team to accomplish the same goal has been the most fulfilling opportunity I’ve had since attending Rutgers, and I can’t wait to see what our team can achieve this year for the kids.
Andrea Poppiti is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in Biological Sciences with a Psychology minor. She is currently the Director of University Relations for Rutgers University Dance Marathon, a Scarlet Ambassador, and a Peer Instructor for the FIGS Program. After graduating in the spring, Andrea will remain at Rutgers to finish her master’s degree in education in the Graduate School of Education and hopes to someday return to the university level as a professor or administrator.