Charity easier to connect with this year (Dance Marathon 2004)

Jerome C. Pandell

In the closing minutes of Dance Marathon 2004, executive boardmembers and representatives from this year’s primary beneficiary –Have Dreams: Helping Autistic Voices Emerge — huddled on stage,hugging one another as tears streamed down their cheeks.

Throughout the 30 hours, parents and the autistic children whotake classes at Have Dreams’ Park Ridge facility told their storiesto dancers and thanked participants for helping the organization,both through volunteering and contributing toward the $319,997 thecharity received at the end of DM.

“You are enabling us to go forward and for Have Dreams to grow,”said Mary Anne Marymont, whose son Jesse takes classes at theorganization. “I know that this is the one place that my son lovesas much as home. There are no words to describe how thankful weare.”

The scene on stage this year contrasted sharply with the end ofDM in 2003.

DM 2003 executive board members did not offer hugs as MidtownEducational Foundation Executive Director Phil Brach appeared onstage at the end of last year’s DM to receive a check for $300,723– DM’s lowest cash donation to a primary beneficiary since1996.

The money would not directly assist Brach’s organization, whichfocuses on helping inner-city youths receive a better education.DM’s relationship with Midtown hit a bump when concerns were raisedover the charity’s connection to Opus Dei, a conservative movementwithin the Roman Catholic Church that encourages members to keeptheir work consistent with their faith. In Fall Quarter 2002, DMleaders switched the 2003 beneficiary to the Chicago Urban YouthScholarship Fund, an endowment set-up by DM through secondarybeneficiary Evanston Community Foundation that would payhigh-school tuition for Midtown students.

DM 2004 Executive Co-chairwoman Margot Bonner, who served aspublic relations committee co-chairwoman for DM last year, saidthere was some disappointment among dancers and participants withthe charity swap. Last year, Bonner said, the stresses of creatinga new charity midstream caused the executive board to come togetherinstead of join in celebrating with the charity.

“Due to the charity swap, (executive board members) were notable to connect as much to the charity last year,” said Bonner, aWeinberg senior. “Certainly last year the connection with thebeneficiary wasn’t as strong for anyone.”

This year, Bonner said, “everyone on the executive board got toknow (the charity) and the dancers got to know them better duringthe 30 hours.”

One dancer agreed that this year’s DM was better than lastyear’s because participants felt more closely connected with whatthe charity tried to accomplish.

“Definitely this year was the most moving or emotional,” saidEvan Wasch, a McCormick junior who has danced in DM for threeyears. “I definitely felt last year’s cause was worthy, but it’shard to inspire people about education for inner-city teens. Whenyou have these kids up there pouring out their hearts on stage it’spretty amazing.”

Wasch said the added requirement for dancers and DM committeemembers to do three hours of volunteer-work with either Have Dreamsor an on-campus service group helped people become more involvedwith the beneficiary’s mission.

“Some people just raise the money and don’t care about thecharity,” said Wasch, who volunteered for NU’s chapter of SpecialOlympics after spaces to volunteer at the Have Dreams center filledup. “Sure it’s kind of a pain in the ass when you’re alreadyraising the money, but it’s a positive thing in terms of knowingand understanding the charity.”

Eunice Byun, an Education senior who has danced for three years,also applauded the volunteer requirement.

“The neat thing about this year was they were able to bring incollege students to Have Dreams through the volunteerrequirements,” Byun said. “It made sure people didn’t just dance todance, but made sure they understood why they were dancing.”

In addition to teaching participants about the charity, Bonnerand executive co-chairman Justin Ballheim also hoped to reach outto other service groups, partly in an effort to show that themission of DM was philanthropic.

“We really wanted to bring home the fact that this was abouthelping people,” said Ballheim, a Medill senior. “We use our sizeto create awareness about something on campus… We’re the one bigevent and one big student group on campus, and we want to use thatto bring people together.”

In early February, University President Henry Bienen sent ane-mail to all undergraduates asking them to support DM, which hecalled “one of Northwestern University’s main events.” AlanCubbage, NU’s vice president for university relations, said in thepast a hard copy of the letter was mailed out, but this year, tocut costs, it was done electronically. Last year’s charity swappinghad no bearing on sending the message, said Cubbage, who describedlast year’s hurdles as a “miscommunication.”