Hundreds of UCF Students and Orlando Community members flocked to Lake Clare on Saturday for Knight-Thon’s first annual Fall Festival. Proceeds from the event went to Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and the neonatal intensive care unit at Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies. Photo by Caroline Jackson

Groups of UCF students and families from surrounding Orlando communities gathered at Lake Claire for the first annual Knight-Thon Fall Festival on Saturday in an effort to raise money for Orlando’s local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital.

Knight-Thon is an annual, year-long event that aims to raise funds for Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, as well as the neonatal intensive care unit at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies. Saturday’s event was one of many held throughout the year to steadily raise money, which concludes with a 20-hour dance marathon, where in 2018, raised $1,584,698.22, according to Knight-Thon’s website.

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“Every dollar that we raise goes 100 percent back to [the hospitals], to help the greatest area of need of that hospital, said Brandon Huynh, 2018-2019 executive director of Knight-Thon.

The event had carnival-style games, a bounce house, pumpkin painting, an inflatable obstacle course, and was DJ’d by Knights of The Turntables. The event was free for all UCF students, and local community members could purchase tickets to play games. The money raised through ticket sales went into Knight-Thon’s charity fund.

“So far we’ve gotten a lot of positive reactions from the community to bring out their families, bring out their kids, to participate and learn what Knight-Thon is, and how it can benefit them and their community as well,” Huynh said.

Huynh said that the goal of Saturday’s event was aimed at bringing the Orlando Community and UCF Students together to have fun and learn more about Knight-Thon’s philanthropic efforts.

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“Knight-Thon fall fest is a way for us to connect to the Orlando community, to bring UCF students together for all different organizations to compete in fun games, meet our miracle families that are also out here, and also engage the Orlando community into what Knight-Thon is all about,” said Huynh.

“Miracle Families” — families who directly benefit from the funds raised each year, attended the event to meet with their sponsored sororities and fraternities, as well as to speak about their experiences with Knight-Thon’s charitable efforts.

Among the miracle families in attendance was Ayden, his brother J.J., and their mother, Tiffany.

Ayden began experiencing seizures in 2013. After he was taken to the hospital, it was discovered he had a tumor that was blocking the flow of fluid from his brain. He was rushed to UF Health Center Shands Hospital, where he underwent emergency brain surgery.

Ayden was only three at the time. Doctors told his mother he would become brain dead, or he would never walk, talk, or or have a normal life.

After 17 nearly consecutive surgeries and three brushes with death, they were referred to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, and after several months there, they moved to Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children.

She called Arnold Palmer her “home away from home,” and credits the hospital for saving her son’s life.

“We have come a very long way, and without the help of Arnold Palmer, my son would not be here to this day,” Tiffany said. Standing next her, Ayden stood and nodded — he was neither brain dead, unable to talk or walk.

While Tiffany said she does fundraising across the country with different charities and organizations, she credits Dance Marathons, like Knight-Thon, with being her favorite

“I know how much love and passion [they] have for our kids and for our hospitals,” Tiffany said.

More information on Knight-Thon and links for donation can be found on their website.