On one of her first days on campus as a freshman, Shelbie Mays heard about MizzouThon from her Kappa Delta sorority sisters. They told her that the University of Missouri student organization is dedicated to raising money for kids at MU Health Care’s Children’s Hospital, with a particular focus on the neonatal ICU.
That was all she needed to hear.
Just before coming to MU, Mays had watched her aunt’s premature twins fight for their lives in a NICU in St. Louis, so she knew about the miracles that happen in NICUs.
“There are so many premature babies being born every day, and I think it’s awesome we can put our focus on the Children’s Hospital NICU,” Mays said.
Since it started in 2008, MizzouThon has become the largest student-run philanthropy at MU, with an average of 725 members over the past three years. Throughout the year, students get to know and lift the spirits of Miracle Kids, the patients who participate in the program through the Children’s Miracle Network. Locals are used to seeing their signature volunteer work of “canning” — filling cans with cash donations — near Columbia storefronts and intersections. MizzouThon members host multiple fundraisers leading up to the annual Main Event, a dance marathon for students and Miracle Kids that lasts more than 13 hours.
The organization has raised more than $2 million for Children’s Hospital, which has funded the renovation and enhancement of the NICU — renamed the MizzouThon NICU in 2018 — and supported other services, such as the music therapy program. All of the money raised stays local.
“We are so grateful for the support of MizzouThon and the help it provides in taking care of our tiniest patients,” said Keri Simon, MU Health Care’s chief of hospital operations. “Donations have allowed us to expand the number of babies we care for, as well as help us provide state-of-the-art equipment to meet their needs. As we look to the future and the construction of our new Children’s Hospital, we will be building a 60-bed NICU with 100% private patient rooms. This continued growth and improvement is so important to our patients and families and would not be possible without the generous support of MizzouThon.”
Mays, who is now a senior and a member of MizzouThon’s general leadership board, will attend MU’s Sinclair School of Nursing after completing her undergraduate degree. She plans to become a pediatric nurse. Seeing MizzouThon’s impact firsthand while shadowing nurses in the NICU has reinforced that she was devoting her energy to the right cause and entering the right profession.
“I remember one time there was a little boy who had a lot of things going on who had been in the NICU over a year,” Mays said. “The nurses, every time they walked by, would stop by and talk to him before continuing to their next round. Seeing that connection, and knowing MizzouThon contributes to those moments, was awesome.”