Personal experiences build UA students’ strong connections with Miracle Families

Miracle Kid Colton dances with UADM students during last year’s Main Event. [Photo Credit: University of Alabama]

By: Bryant Welbourne | University of Alabama

Jack Ebersold and his family know firsthand what it’s like to spend countless hours, days and weeks in a children’s hospital. The Downers Grove, Illinois, native was born eight weeks early and spent the first month of his life in a children’s hospital.

“I owe my life to those doctors and nurses who took care of me as an infant,” said Ebersold. “I’ve always wanted to find ways to support families who are in a similar situation.”

As a freshman at the UA Dance Marathon, Ebersold came across the UA Dance Marathon table at Get On Board Day. Given his personal experience and knowledge of Dance Marathon groups at other universities, he knew he wanted to get involved. Today, the senior marketing major is director of UADM and recently participated in his last Main Event, the culmination of UADM’s year.

“When I arrived at UA, I wanted to dive in and get involved in the community because the community gives so much to the university,” said Ebersold. “The community culture here is special and it’s easy to relate to it, no matter where you come from.”

UADM is a student-led organization that provides support to the children and families undergoing treatment at the Children’s Miracle Network Hospital at Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham. Events are held throughout the year to raise money.

Members of UADM announce they have raised $341,000 in the past year for 19 Miracle Families [Photo Credit: University of Alabama]

Over the past year, UADM raised $341,000 for the families. More than 1,000 UA students participated in the 13.1-hour-long Main Event dance marathon held at UA’s Ferguson Student Center on Feb. 17.

But UADM is about more than just financial support. Aside from fundraising, each member of the UADM executive committee adopts a Miracle Family that receives emotional support and encouragement from the student and organization throughout the year.

During his time as director, Ebersold has worked to increase the number of families adopted by UADM. The organization adopted 19 Miracle Families this year, which is seven more than last year’s number.

“It’s important for us to support the Miracle Families during their entire journey,” said Kaitlin Burnash, UADM’s director of family relations. “We go to the kid’s appointments at the hospital and attend their birthday parties so we can celebrate all of their big moments.”

Like Ebersold, Burnash has a special connection to UADM’s cause. Two of her childhood friends spent time in children’s hospitals. Those experiences pushed Burnash to not only get involved with UADM at the end of her freshman year, but also spend the last three summers working at a summer camp for children with serious and terminal illnesses.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to meet hundreds of amazing families who are on the same journey as our Miracle Families,” said Burnash. “Those experiences have made me really passionate about what we can do to make a difference in their lives.”

University of Alabama students participate in a 13-hour dance marathon to raise money for families of children with illnesses. [Photo Credit: University of Alabama]

UADM holds several events for Miracle Kids throughout the year, including a trick-or-treat parade, Christmas toy drive and other fun experiences. But Burnash explains that the organization works to also be there for the families during unsettling times.

“When our kids have three-month cancer scans, one of our committee members will go to the Ronald McDonald House the night before and just hang out with the families,” said Burnash. “The parents get really stressed out, but we want to provide a relaxing presence to keep the parents and child focused on something else and make it a positive experience.”

The relationships built between UADM members and Miracle Families have proven to be unique, strong and mutually beneficial. Burnash is living proof of the impact these bonds can have on a student. After graduation, the senior from Walnut Creek, California, plans to apply for medical school to pursue a career as a pediatric oncologist.

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama’s website.