For the Kids
Family inspires KSU student to help hospitalized children
KENNESAW, Ga. (Mar 16, 2018) — Kennesaw State University senior Ryann Miller is ready to dance one more time to help children who don’t have that opportunity.
Over the past three years, Miller has been a driving force behind the student organization KSU Miracle raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. She will join more than 1,000 fellow students on March 24 for the largest fundraiser of KSU Miracle’s annual campaign, the 12-hour dance marathon.
“I can’t think of a better way to have spent my college career than being part of KSU Miracle,” said Miller, who will graduate in May with a psychology degree. “I will never, ever regret spending my time doing something to serve others. If I could tell my freshman year self one thing, it would be, ‘Go do dance marathon now.’”
Miller learned about KSU Miracle during the summer following her freshman year, and she immediately was drawn to the organization’s commitment to helping children. She served on KSU Miracle’s board of directors as a sophomore and helped raise $72,000, nearly triple the amount the organization contributed to Children’s Healthcare the previous year.
Miller became KSU Miracle’s executive director for her junior year and set a lofty fundraising goal of $150,000. She and others “fundraised like crazy,” collecting donations and securing sponsors, and shattered the goal by bringing in $215,129. That inspired the highest goal yet, $300,000, for 2017-18.
“We went super hard and kept driving, because it wasn’t about us – it was about the kids,” Miller said. “We dance for those who can’t, and we give a voice to those who don’t have one. We’re doing it for all of those kids who are spending their birthday or Christmas in the hospital.”
A cause close to home
Miller is quite familiar with children receiving treatment in a hospital. She has 11 brothers and sisters, including seven who are adopted and have special needs such as cerebral palsy, spina bifida, autism and blindness.
Miller said she is inspired by the “hearts of gold” of her parents – Stephen, a middle school principal, and Tammy, who grew up with adopted siblings and later worked at a school for the blind. They began adopting children when Ryann was 3 years old.
“Every time they say, ‘OK we’re done, we’re not adopting anymore,’ the next year we’ve got another one,” Miller said with a laugh. “There are so many kids in need, and we have the opportunity to help them. Why would we not?”
Members of Ryann Miller's family inspired her involvement with KSU Miracle and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.
But with the fulfillment of adopting special-needs children comes many challenges. Miller’s siblings have needed so many trips to the hospital that she said Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta “has become a family to us because we’re there so often.”
With that in mind, KSU Miracle will host an event in honor of her parents in the week leading up to the dance marathon. During the rock-a-thon March 19-23, volunteers will accept financial pledges to sit in rocking chairs on the Campus Green. The fundraiser will last 62 hours, which, multiplied by the two rocking chairs, totals 124 – symbolic of the number of times Miller’s parents have been to the hospital for a surgery or other procedure for one of their children.
“It’s to represent the 124 times that my mom and dad have had to sit out in the waiting room and wait,” Miller said. “They really are incredible role models – not just for me, but for our organization. They just continue to so selflessly serve my family and my KSU family.”
Leaving a legacy
Miller hopes her work with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta is just beginning.
From the time she started college, Miller knew she wanted to be a child life specialist, a health care professional who works with children and families to cope with illness, disability and hospitalization. Her goal is to work for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta or Children’s Miracle Network, which raises money for its affiliated hospitals through dance marathons across North America.
“I don’t think they can keep me away for too long,” she said.
Whatever path her career takes, Miller already has left her mark on Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. In recognition of last year’s $215,129 donation, Children’s Healthcare named the KSU Miracle Rehabilitation Treatment Rooms and the KSU Miracle Sports Medicine Gym at its new Outpatient Care Center at Town Center in Kennesaw.
“Seeing our funds go directly to work has been unreal,” Miller said. “The day that the Outpatient Care Center opened, I sat in the parking lot and I just watched patients go in and out. I was crying in my car because it was just so overwhelming to see that we’re actually making a difference.”
Miller also might shed a tear at the end of this year’s dance marathon, knowing it’s her final one as a Kennesaw State student. However, she is confident that KSU Miracle will continue to make a difference on campus and in the surrounding community because of the outstanding students who are involved.
“I feel confident leaving the program in such good hands,” Miller said. “The people who are coming up in leadership are stellar. They’re such selfless leaders. I know they’re going to lead our program into incredible growth, all for the kids.”
– Paul Floeckher
Photos by Lauren Kress; Submitted photo by Ryann Miller