Tallahassee Democrat | By Kayla McKinney | July 1, 2021
“She just works hard and encourages everyone,” one person said of Jamie Knox.
Jamie Knox had the fundraising odds stacked against her: How do you put on events in a global pandemic?
But she didn’t let obstacles stand in the way of raising over $140,000 for Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) hospitals, becoming one of only three high schoolers out of thousands to be nationally recognized for outstanding leadership.
Knox, who just graduated from Leon High School, joined her school’s dance marathon executive team in her sophomore year after gaining interest as an attendant the year prior.
“I remember going on social media at the time and everyone posting about all these causes they cared about and I wanted something like that to support,” Knox says. “I had attended as a dancer and it looked fun, and I knew I wanted to lead.”
The Miracle Network Dance Marathon is a student-led movement in which high schools and college students across the country raise funds annually to support CMN hospitals.
In 2020, Leon received the Children’s Miracle Network “Best High School Dance Marathon” Award, naming their fundraising efforts and dance marathon to be the best out of dozens of other high schools in the network nationwide.
As the co-executive director, Knox had some big shoes to fill. The main goal her team made was to raise more money than the previous team, which raised the school’s fundraising total by 32%.
Especially during a pandemic, the group was constantly reminded that their goals may not be reached, but Knox kept hope and would not take ‘no’ for an answer.
“We really tried to stay focused on the cause and kept emphasizing our ‘why.’ There are a couple of kids (who help or go to the school) that have been treated at Shand’s, so we made it personal,” Knox says.
In order to see real results in the midst of a pandemic and keep her school community engaged, the team had to rethink everything they had ever done before.
Knox and the team made it a point to have outside-the-box fundraising events throughout the year and to use all digital platforms to reach a wider audience in quarantine.
For example, one of the fundraising events Knox and her team arranged was a virtual 5K run. Participants could compete against each other by running individually and sending in the amount of time it took to run.
“The tenacity demonstrated by this group was just unlike any other (before them). They took it to heart, kept the kids in mind … and didn’t let COVID stop them,” says Kate Davis, the Leon dance marathon sponsor.
Even the dance marathon itself had to be in an innovative format, which Knox says was one of the hardest decisions to make, especially having to think about the weather.
Usually, the school holds their marathon in the gym. However, due to COVID guidelines, the event had to be reimagined to prioritize safety. Instead of a usual dance event, the team decided to hold it as a field day, with different activities for community members to participate in and hosting some Zoom attendees.
“I would say it paid off in the end,” Knox says.
Knox and her other executive director kept the team inspired and hopeful through the year by writing them messages and sending memes in their group messages.
The team achieved their fundraising goal, raising an additional $10,000 than the last year.
“I would say turning around the numbers at the end of the night was my most memorable event (since working with Dance Marathon). We don’t know how much we made. We didn’t even know how much was written on the cards, so seeing the numbers and how much we raised was such a surprise,” Knox says.
Knox and the Leon team raised a total of $140,181.
“The numbers are such a credit to Jamie and the team because they kept pushing, even when I was telling them to cut back (financially),” Davis says.
Knox also went on to be recognized as one of 27 graduating seniors to receive the “2021 Miracle Network Dance Marathon Distinguished Leadership Award” out of thousands.
Knox was one out of only three high school students to be given this achievement, with the remaining being college students. “She has a quiet leadership. She does not yell, she does not degrade, she just works hard and encourages everyone,” Davis says.
Knox even intentionally decided on a college that participates in dance marathons. “I knew if I could do good in high school that I could do great on a collegiate level,” Knox said.
Knox plans on continuing her participation at the University of Florida, while studying art history, hoping to eventually become an executive director for their dance marathon.
The university is home to Shand’s Hospital — the CMN hospital all schools and universities in Leon County raise funds for — which Knox says is an added perk.