Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Hurt That Onward State Caused Four Diamonds Families

To preface the emails and open letter to Onward State's Managing Editor, Kevin Horne, I would like to first explain how this came to be. Onward State, Penn State's independently operated blog, re-posted an article this week entitled "100 Reasons Why We Dance" which was originally published in 2012. The article has many very inspiring notes and is a big hit among the THON community.

At the end of the article, a number of children's names are listed as reasons why we dance. These children are cancer survivors, have lost their battles with cancer or are currently in treatment for cancer.
While yes, of course we THON For the Kids - it was brought to my attention by a number of Four Diamonds parents that hundreds of children were left out of this list. We do not THON just for these children, we THON for all of the Four Diamonds children and their families.

I reached out to Onward State, encouraging them to use the sentiment, 'Four Diamonds families' rather than naming handfuls of children - in an effort to include everyone and not leave any child behind. Below is my disappointing conversation with Kevin Horne, who is certainly not For the Kids. 


My email to Onward State's Managing Editor, Kevin Horne and the Onward State staff

Kevin and the Onward State staff, 

I would like to draw to your attention the article that Onward State posted to highlight 100 Days until THON 2014. Mr. Horne, I am writing to you on behalf of the hundreds of Four Diamonds families who have been treated at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital over the last 41 years and who have been supported by the valiant efforts of the Penn State students and THON volunteers. 

I know both sides of this story. In 2010, I lost my younger brother, Jed, after an eight-year battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. My family has been involved with the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon since 2003 when THON was still in Rec Hall and I was still in elementary school. I went on to graduate from Penn State this year after dancing in both THON 2010 and THON 2011 and serving as a Public Relations Captain and a Family Relations Captain. I am both a Four Diamonds family and a passionate THON volunteer – but this isn’t about me.

The article you re-posted on Onward State November 13, 2013 was incredibly offensive and hurtful to so many Four Diamonds families and this needs to be brought to your attention and the attention of your staff. While I know the initial intent of the article was to be motivational and inspiring – it is thoughtless.

Approximately 100 new families receive support from the Four Diamonds Fund each year. THON paired with The Four Diamonds Fund in 1977 and your article only mentions the names of 88 children. Where are the names of the other 3,500 or more children? What about recognizing the sacrifices, pain, loss, victories, successes and special moments of all of those families?

My own brother’s name is mentioned in this article, and it is so wonderful to see his name and know that he is being remembered. But as a Family Relations Captain, I worked with over 40 families who had lost their children – only a handful of their names are on this list.

Please take a moment and try to consider what it is like for these parents who don’t have their child here with them anymore. A terrible disease has taken their baby and they wake up each day just to be reminded that their child died. Then consider that their child’s name is overlooked and that their family is forgotten.

You cannot comprehend that pain and you caused it for so many families.

There are hundreds of healthy and thriving Four Diamonds children who were also not mentioned in this article. What about them?

To the parents whose children were mentioned, 
I love each and every one of you. We are a family.

Onward State, you owe and apology to the families whom you overlooked. I urge you to use, ‘Four Diamonds families’ when referring to the community that we are all a part of in any future publications.  

Remember, we THON For the Kids – no matter what.

Savannah Smith 


Kevin Horne's personal response

Hi Savannah,
Thank you very much for the message. Your commitment to the fight against pediatric cancer is inspiring. I cannot begin to imagine the pain you have gone through, but hearing about the positive efforts of you and countless other students, alumni, and members of the Four Diamonds Foundation will never cease to impress.

However, after reading this email multiple times, I had to check to make sure it wasn't someone playing a prank on me.  Believe me when I say that it was not our intention to offend any of the Four Diamonds families.  The "100 Reasons Why We Dance" post is one of my favorite posts we've ever written -- one of our most read and shared THON posts of all-time, in fact -- and has been ubiquitously shared in the THON community with an overwhelmingly positive response.

To call an article written by fellow THON supports and so clearly meant to put THON in a positive light "incredibly offensive, "hurtful," and "thoughtless" is -- if I'm being honest -- an absolute joke.
To be clear, the list of names we used came directly from the THON website (this link). The first sentence clearly states that the post was republished exactly as it appeared last year. If you're implying that we can't mention one THON child without mentioning all 3,500 of them -- well -- that is completely insane, and not something that any news website could undertake. The THON website only lists the names of 93 kids and 13 families. Do you know why? Because it would be IMPOSSIBLE to list and profile every single child.

How do you think THON families must feel when they scroll through the official THON website and see that their child was overlooked? Much worse than on a student blog, I'm sure. If you're going to send us an email with such a hateful and condescending tone for being non-inclusive, I'll expect that you send the same sort of email to this year's THON Executive Committee.

Of course, that's not taking anything away from any THON family or child that wasn't listed. I think I can speak for everyone on my staff -- and indeed, everyone at Penn State -- when I say that we all have such admiration, respect, and empathy for everything families impacted by cancer must go through. It is through the hard work of everyone involved in THON that one day, no family will need to endure such senseless pain.

But to say my organization must apologize for publishing an article that was so clearly favorable of THON and all its participants is patently absurd. Please feel free to contact me again if you have legitimate criticism to share, and thank you for reading.
Kevin Horne


An open letter to Kevin Horne and Onward State


Perhaps you misunderstood me. I work in communications for one of the most highly respected childhood cancer organizations in the world - trust me, I understand that naming thousands of children in an article is nearly impossible. However, if you refer to the last paragraph of my letter, I offered a simple solution that would both provide simplicity to your writers and editors as well as ensure that no families feel left out. 

Secondly, the organization is the Four Diamonds Fund (not the Four Diamonds Foundation).

While this inspirational and very sweet article is undoubtedly popular and well loved within the THON community that does not discount its ability to offend and hurt some families. Please know that there are mothers who were so hurt by the exclusion of their children that they were brought to tears. It does not matter if this article was re-posted from last year - it is your responsibility as an editor to make sure that all information is accurate and fair. 

The information on is given to The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon by the Four Diamonds families who wish to be featured in the family webpages program run by the Family Relations Captain Committee. These families give permission and fill out forms to be featured on the website. This does not mean that Family Relations or THON "forgot" the other families. 

I am not and never was asking you to name all of the Four Diamonds children and their families. I was simply asking you to consider the hurtful impact that your blog had on many families. I see now that it does not matter to you - and neither does good investigative journalism. 

Again, Four Diamonds families are a community. We may be many individual families but true to the word - we are one big family. Consider the wide-spread impact of your organization's words more carefully next time. Childhood cancer is not a matter to take lightly. 

Thank you, 


Update: Kevin's response


I would have been happy to continue this conversation with you but since you already made our exchange public, I don't think there is much of a point. Your true intentions are now clear -- this crusade was not only about being for the kids, but about puffing your chest out to "show off" your exchange with me for personal recognition, a trend that is unfortunately ever-so-prevalent in THON these days.

This was never about you, Savannah, and frankly, you are the exact type of person that gives THON a bad name. Onward State will continue to cover THON in the most positive way possible, and part of that includes using the names of families.

Kevin Horne


I would like to just remind any one reading this who doesn't know that I have been dedicated to THON's fight for over twelve years. I have shared my personal story at more THON events that I can count, including THON weekend in the hopes that I can inspire a new generation of volunteers. I now run an organization that donates thousands of dollars to THON's fight and supports the Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital. Today, we are donating an iPad to a little boy who not only has cancer but also has autism and difficulty communicating. None of this was about "puffing out my chest" - it was about standing up for hurting families when the can't stand up for themselves. I've been doing it all of my life. Onward State's negativity and poor leadership will not stop these families from feeling the love and support from thousands of students and alumni. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Savannah Smith Photography has moved!

Savannah Smith Photography has moved... yes, it's true!

This blog will remain here for the time being but for personal usage (though I've been slacking lately).
If you're looking for something SSP related (giveaways, booking shoots or just browsing and looking at pretty things), check out the new site!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

SSP Family Portrait GIVEAWAY!

Yes, it's true! There is an SSP GIVEAWAY happening right now!

Savannah Smith Photography has paired up with The Jedediah Thomas Smith Foundation to put together both a Family Portrait Fundraiser and a special Intro to your DSLR Workshop on September 14th at Samuel Lewis State Park (rain date TBD).

But... before registration even begins for the Family Portraits, you have the opportunity to win your way in!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Virginia and Chase | Engagement (State College, PA Engagement Photographer)

Virginia and Chase reached out to me after their engagement at the Penn State Arboretum. They were hoping for a Penn State engagement session to celebrate where they met and fell in love. Of course it also helps that the campus is absolutely gorgeous and I'm always happy to pop in for a visit.

I met Virginia through a mutual friend and Virginia's roommate (hey Rena) and this was my first opportunity meeting Chase. They couldn't stop smiling and giggling at each other and I had no trouble getting them to relax. 

I am absolutely looking forward to continuing photographing their journey and their wedding next spring! 




















We finished the session while the sun was just turning that lovely golden yellow that I love at Happy Valley Vineyard and Winery. Virginia is a wine connoisseur and works as an assistant winemaker for Mazza Wines (she was super sweet and brought me a bottle which I promptly enjoyed). 
She will be making the wine as the favors for their wedding - which I thought was both fitting, thoughtful and so personal! 







This was such a lovely shoot and I'm looking forward to some senior portrait shoots and a birthday party coming up next week. Don't forget to "like" Savannah Smith Photography on Facebook for more! 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Best of the Best: Penn State Seniors 2013

I was blessed with the most incredible group of Penn State Seniors this year. Even with the horribly cold weather, plethora of rainy days and outrageous wind, they stuck with me and together we created some images that I am very proud of.

They have been some of the sweetest and most beautiful clients I could have ever asked for. Add on that a handful of them are some of my closest friends... and I'm one lucky photographer.

Thank you Class of 2013! It was an honor to photograph you and graduate with you!





I was lucky enough to photograph three Gamma Phi seniors this year. Jillian, Kristen and Molly were such a breeze to work with and all so effortlessly gorgeous. If I start talking about how much this means to me here... I'll start rambling but ya'll are great!




There was also a trend with THON Special Events Captains! Carly, Katie, Devin, Meg and Jenny all set up awesome sessions with me! YAY SE! 





Jenny brought along her boyfriend, Ross, for easily one of my favorite sessions of the whole senior season. They were so easy to work with, funny and freakin' adorable. The images that I got from these two made it onto the back of my newly designed business cards (a whole card to themselves). Thanks Jenny and Ross! 




Natalie and Billy's session was so much fun too, even though it was bitter cold. I love shooting couples because it's so wonderful to capture the sweet interaction between them. 


I also photographed a set of roommates, which was really fun! Kat, my good friend and one of my committee members (who is also the designer of my logo!) did a session with me in early March on a rare warm day. 


After I photographed Kat, I then had the opportunity to capture images for her equally as pretty roommates, Katie and Jordan! 



Cousins, Lauren and Emily, stuck with me through one of my busiest days shooting of the whole spring! I was sure that I was going to have to ask them back to do a second shoot... I just wasn't at my best by the end of the day. But when I got home and looked at what I had on my camera, I knew that these two rocked it. I couldn't have been more grateful for patient, understanding and beautiful models! Lauren's mom is still telling me how much she loves the images. That's the best compliment ever.


I was challenged by Nancy's session and that was great! She wanted to include a photo for her little sibling's as a gift, that was styled after the Pixar movie, Up.  She brought along the balloons and the whole outfit... and it turned out so perfectly! 


Last, but certainly never least, two of my favorite sessions were when I photographed my two best friends! Emily... poor thing... you'd never know it but it was snowing when we did her session. We laughed the whole way through it and I constantly kept yelling, "Pretend you're in Tahiti! Okay, now you're in Bora Bora! You're on a beach in the Bahamas! Feeeeeeeeeel the sunshine!"


Rena was my last session of the season and I couldn't have ended it better. We spent well over two hours just goofing off and ended up with some of my favorite images. The Happy Thursday bicycling group even stopped in to make sure we knew the joy of the day... 


Like I said, I'm pretty lucky.
You're all pretty cool.
I love ya lots.

Penn State Class of 2014, a very select number of weekend senior portrait dates will be announced immediately after THON 2014. Be on the lookout. They will fill quickly!