For the second straight season, the Syracuse University football team has qualified for a bowl game, the first time the Orange have secured back-to-back postseason appearances since the 2012 and 2013 seasons. After closing out the regular season with a…
Falk College Student Helping Families Navigate ‘Terrifying Path’ of Pediatric Illness
Why Falk College? And why OttoTHON?
For Grace Brashears ’25, 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, a junior, 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. Brashears, 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.
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.
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 the organization’s signature large event in the spring, the 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 the event, patricipants 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,” says Brashears.
Pediatric illness is something that Brashears has 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,” she says. “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 and family science and public health with the goal of becoming a certified child life specialist.”
As executive director, Brashears will 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. She will 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,” she says.
Brashears believes 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.”
Those interested in joining the internal side of OttoTHON can apply to be a part of a committee (applications coming out soon), or the new Team Captain program. Other opportunities are offered to participate in the various small events held on campus, by donating to the hospital through OttoTHON’s Donor Drive page, or by registering through the donor drive to be a dancer (participant) at the main event in the spring. For more information on where to sign up, donate, or any with any other questions, follow on Instagram at @ottothon or email Brashears at Ottothon@gmail.com.
In addition to her OttoTHON activities, Brashears is a Falk College student ambassador, Falk research assistant, University orientation leader and a member of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority.