DM swaps beneficiaries

Erin Ward

Dance Marathon announced Monday it will change its beneficiary after students voiced concerns about raising money for a faith-based charity.

DM now will benefit the Chicago Urban Youth Scholarship Fund instead of Midtown Educational Foundation, which was founded on principles set by the Catholic Church.

DM co-chairwoman Emily Wessel said DM’s executive board didn’t consider Midtown’s affiliations in May when it chose the charity. Midtown sends inner-city minority students to college with the help of tutoring and mentoring programs.

“We see what they do, not their background and affiliates,” said Wessel, a Weinberg senior.

In March, DM gave about $485,000 to charity — more than $380,000 of which went to its primary beneficiary.

The substituted beneficiary, the Chicago Urban Youth Scholarship Fund, is an endowment for low-income students and will benefit those who have participated in Midtown’s program.

The scholarship organization will use all DM funds for tuition assistance only to students in Midtown’s College Orientation Program.

“(Midtown) is still involved this year,” said Zack Hall, DM co-chairman. “Instead of (the money) going directly to (Midtown), it goes to students.”

DM delayed dancer registration for three weeks while deciding the new beneficiary. Registration now will be held on Thursday.

DM organizers also eliminated a newly proposed requirement that would have forced dancers to volunteer at Midtown.

“We’re not requiring, but we’re still strongly encouraging it,” said Hall. “On registration packets, we ask how many hours they can volunteer. Based on that feedback, (the outreach coordinators) will devise volunteer opportunities.”

Officials at Midtown said DM organizers only recently showed worry about Midtown’s religious connections.

“They’ve known from the get-go that we were faith-based, but I think when they started advertising to sign up the dancers is when it became a concern for them,” said Phillip Brach, executive director of Midtown.

Midtown had planned on using DM funds to open a second center in the North Chicago, Ill., or Waukegan, Ill. area.

“I’m confident that someone else will come through because the need there is so dire,” Brach said.

Wessel said she believes Midtown will achieve that goal.

“They will be able to do that eventually, just not with Dance Marathon money,” she said. “We decided that the best thing for DM 2003 was to focus on the kids (Midtown) benefits.”

This is the first time DM chose a social charity as its main beneficiary instead of a medical one.

“It’s a new direction for DM to take,” Hall said. “It makes an investment in the future. Curing a disease is a very important goal for society, but one thing we thought was important was education. Students who benefit from this scholarship could be the doctor who cures that disease.”

Beth Gianfrancisco, an Education sophomore who said she plans to register to dance, said DM’s changing the charity does not affect her desire to participate.

“I can understand how some people would be upset,” she said. “I think it’s kind of sad that people are so anti-religion that they would have issues with this. As long as the money is going to the kids, either way, I’ll support DM.”