First Mule-a-Thon Was “an Absolute Success”

Our goal was to involve the entire Muhlenberg community in a philanthropic effort. The 172 students who participated raised $11,000 for the Amber Louise Elchert Foundation, an organization founded in memory of a 2013 alum.

By: Tom Hiller ’23, as told to Meghan Kita  Tuesday, November 22, 2022 09:40 AM

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Students dance near the end of the 12 hours of the first Mule-a-Thon. Photos by Bill Keller and Ash Miller

Tom Hiller ’23 is a media & communication major, a brother in Alpha Tau Omega and the vice president of the Interfraternity Council (IFC). It was his idea to host the first Mule-a-Thon, a 12-hour dance marathon that raised money for the Amber Louise Elchert Foundation.

When I was elected to the IFC this spring, we had just finished Greek Week, which benefited the Ashley Hope Foundation [in memory of Ashley Goodman ’22]. Philanthropic events are something really cool that Greek life does, but we haven’t had many that are open to the entire Muhlenberg community. I was involved in dance marathons in high school and I thought it would be cool if we could host one at Muhlenberg. I brought the idea to [Associate Director of Fraternity & Sorority Life and Leadership] Natalie Shaw, IFC’s advisor, in April. 

We wanted to fundraise for an organization that was part of the Muhlenberg community, and we found the Amber Louise Elchert Foundation. Amber Elchert ’13 was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, and she passed four months after she graduated. Her dream was for her parents to carry on what she wanted to do: to help kids like her who were dealt a really tough hand in life. 

Her parents, Frank ’01 and Michele Elchert ’15, decided to start a foundation to help families with children who have critical illnesses. They work with children’s hospitals to provide care packages to patients and their siblings, and they cover expenses for families. They also work with families who’ve lost children, to help keep them together. [Frank is a Catholic deacon and trained grief facilitator.] When I talked to Frank and Michele and learned what they do, I felt like it was a perfect match.

Natalie and I quickly realized we couldn’t plan this alone, so we brought in other members of the IFC and the Panhellenic Council to head up different committees. They brought in volunteers to be on subcommittees. Altogether, about 30 or so people put this together. 

We had 172 students sign up for Mule-a-Thon and contribute their participation fee. We were not expecting more than 150. We just wanted to create an event anyone could go to to help a foundation that does extraordinary work. The night was an absolute success. 

My favorite moment happened in the last few hours of the event. We were in the Seegers Event Space and realized that if we opened the curtains, we’d see the sun rise over the [Baker Center for the Arts]. So around 6 a.m. we gathered on the stage. The DJ played some chiller music and we watched the colors changing in the sky. When we saw that sunrise, it was really special. Everyone was together in that moment.

We raised around $11,000. Frank spoke at the beginning and the end of the night. You could hear sadness but also love in his voice. He and Michele are the kindest people I’ve ever met. I’m glad that I know them and if I could help them in any way in the future, I would.

I said in my last speech of the morning that if I could’ve, I would’ve started Mule-a-Thon as soon as I came onto campus. My class, we were freshmen when we were sent home for the pandemic, so it didn’t work out that way. I’m sad I’m not going to be able to be a part of organizing Mule-a-Thon next year, but having this was a really great feeling, like, ‘Hey, I stuck it out for my four years here and I was rewarded with this event.’”