'Dancing with the Stars' raises money for Neighborhood Center

PLYMOUTH — The excitement began about four years ago, when Marshall County Neighborhood Center board member Karen Barden heard about a “Dancing with the Stars” event in South Bend. Barden thought the concept of having community members vote on friends’ and coworkers’ dancing performances might work as a fundraiser for the Neighborhood Center. She was right — and the now-annual event brings in thousands of dollars each year.
“I think people enjoy (seeing) people they know dance, and it’s very entertaining,” said Barden.
This year, 11 couples will be choreographing a dance prior to the event at Swan Lake Resort Jan. 28, hosted by the Marshall County Neighborhood Center and LifePlex. Community members are paired with professional dancers to come up with an memorable and fun performance, often involving elaborate costumes. The winning couple is determined by a vote. Votes are $20 each, or eight for $100, 20 for $200, or 100 for $1,000. They can be cast online before the event, or on the night of the dance.
“My goal is always to raise $100,000,”said Barden, adding that in 2010 the event brought in $65,000.
The money is desperately needed by the Neighborhood Center. Executive director Sara Hill said that her goal in 2012 is to allow clients two visits each month to the food pantry.
“That was our goal in 2011 as well, but our number of clients doubled instead,” said Hill.
Hill explained that the food pantry went from serving 150 households each month to serving nearly 300 — in just one year. She said that the money raised by the Dancing with the Stars event will first go to the “nuts and bolts” of the Center — operating expenses such as utilities and stocking the food pantry. After that is taken care of, the other money will go toward the 5 Star program, major repairs to the building, or new programs.
“We have a lot of ideas, but we just have to see what the community support is,” said Hill.
She added that although the Neighborhood Center is funded in part by the Marshall County Community Foundation and United Way of Marshall County as well as other grants, those amounts vary from year to year.
“This is probably one of the most fun fundraisers I’ve ever been to,” said Hill of Dancing with the Stars. “There are people that we know from the community out there dancing, and there is so much lively activity.”
Tickets to the event — which includes a gourmet dinner — can be purchased at the Neighborhood Center or the LifePlex, or online at www.events.org/neighborhoodcenter for $75 per person. Tables are also available. More information, including names and bios of this year’s dancers, can also be found on the event website.