So, Dancing with The Keene Stars 2017 has come and gone and this year was one that will go down in my memory banks and diary as one to remember for the rest of my life. For so many reasons.
Project Graduation is an event held in our town’s high school the night after the kids graduate. And yes, I did just call them kids. They are. All under legal age, mostly 17 and 18. And what do 17 and 18 year old kids like to do to celebrate, test boundaries, and prove their cool factor is off the charts? Some drink and/or engage in illegal drug use. Project Graduation provides every single graduate a safe haven for the entire night after graduation, and engages them–not in illicit, illegal behavior — but good, fun, funny, and memory making behaviors with their fellow graduates. It is a smoke-free alcohol-free, drug-free night where the kids (!) are locked into the high school and not allowed to leave without a parent picking them up and escorting them out. Keeping them off the streets and at parties where they could get into potential trouble is one sure fire way of keeping every graduate alive to get to the next stage of their live. In the 100 days between high school graduation and college start-up more kids this age die in alcohol and drug related ways than at any other time. That pre-frontal cortex of theirs hasn’t fully developed yet, so they still make stupid decisions thinking they are sound ones. Project Graduations helps keep this number down with a goal toward eliminating it from the statistical curve.
Now. PSA complete. Back to DWTS.
I saw my first DWTS show four years ago when it was brought to my town as a fundraiser for Project Grad, and I wanted to participate within the first 10 minutes of the show. I actively – and I mean ACTIVELY pursued a spot on the next year’s roster and was -Yippie- given one! I was a STAR! I thought I knew how to dance before being picked. Yeah…not so much. The 8 weeks of preparation were grueling and oftentimes frustrating. I’d just undergone surgical removal of a melanoma from my stomach and was in constant pain, worried about my deep incision line, and frustrated because I wasn’t doing well in practice. When all was said and done, I loved the experience.
The next year I was a judge.
This year I was partnered with a STAR and the Gods above gave me the perfect one. I call him my brother from another mother, although in truth I could have agewise been his mother! We were in sync from the first 5 minutes of meeting. Every rehearsal was a shear joy – physically testing – but shear joy.And when all was said and done, we came in first place both nights!
The backstage moments of the competition, though, are the memories I’ll cherish the most. All 20 dancers formed a solid wall of friendship and camaraderie, knowing we were doing something good for the community and for our kids. I met community leaders I’d never met before and found some true, lifelong friends among them.
Volunteerism is a facet of this country that more people aspire to than actually engage in. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of not knowing where to go to offer your time, your money, or your expertise. I’ve always thought that to have a strong community, you need to be engaged in that community, so ever since my daughter started school I volunteered for room mother, snack mom, to be a chaperone on trips, etc. She’s been out of the house for 10 years and I still feel a responsibility to my community to give back. Participating in annual 5ks for local charities; attending auctions to raise money for school upgrades. Heck, even saving the box tops on tops of cereal boxes all contribute to making my community a better, safer, healthier place to live and grow. Hence, Dancing with the Stars.
So. I said this last year when I wrote my after-dancing blog experience and I’ll say it again this year: VOLUNTEER. There are so many opportunities within your community to make a difference. And believe me, you may not think you’re making a big one, but you are. For me, keeping that one kid who had the idea to go to a graduation party, drink, and then get behind the wheel of a car to head on home off the road makes a huge difference. Just think of all the people effected if he crashes and dies: his parents and loved ones, friends, anyone else involved in the crash and their loved ones and friends, the response teams, medical personnel and grief counselors pulled in to care for the survivors, and the kid himself who has just now lost his future. All because he wanted to go to a party and celebrate his high school graduation and didn’t make wise choices about drinking.
If I am asked to perform or judge next years’ DANCING WITH THE STARS fundraiser for our town high school, you can put money on the fact I will say “Hell, yeah!” Whether I dance, judge, or just sell tickets, it will be one of the highlights of my year.
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