On March 1, teams — comprised of a local “celebrity” and an experienced dancer — will take the stage at 7 p.m. at the Clarence Brown Conference Center. Along with showcasing their newfound dancing skills, the participants also are raising funds for the event’s two beneficiaries: the Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter and the city of Cartersville and Bartow County schools’ homeless education programs.
“Most of [the local celebrities] do not have any dancing experience at all,” said Lori Albea, who is co-chairing the event with Ivy Jordan. “There’s a couple that maybe have taken some classes over the years but for the most part they have no experience. They’re learning. When they practice, we ask that they practice no more than three hours a week. We want it to kind of be fair [for] each couple and plus they have work and family [commitments]. So ... they start right after Christmas [and] until the event on March 1, they’re able to practice at their own time basically.
“I’m one of the chairs and I head up the dancers. So I kind of watch them a little bit along the way. Really, I just see bits and pieces. So when you see it at the end all come together — yes, the [dancers] are amazing. [It also is impressive] how quickly they have to learn the dance and put it together and they’re all very professional. [Last year], they were excited when it was all over with. They were nervous but they were excited and had a blast with it. Most all of them were like, ‘That’s the most fun I’ve ever had in my life.’ They really learn a lot and have fun with it.”
Along with entertaining the crowd with one dance, the participants will strive for the Judge’s Choice and People’s Choice accolades, that latter of which will be determined based on the amount of money teams raise before the event and through the audience’s votes or donations. In addition to ticket sales and People’s Choice donations, funds will be generated by the 11 celebrity dancers, who are tasked with raising at least $5,000 prior to the competition.
This year’s celebrity dancers and their experienced partners will include Donny Adams and Cara Collier, Melissa Rhodes Bell and Chuck Nida, Suzanne Benoit and Derrek Walters, Mike Fields and Angela Laughridge, Jay Milam and Bobbie Bruton, Jessica Mitcham and Ricky Casko, Bruce Mulkey and Tanecia Weems, Andrew Pettit and Nephateria “Nifty” Williams, Paige Robbins and Steve Webb, Ted Smith and Kasey Ashworth and Drew Startup and Julie Reeves.
“We try to get professional or rather experienced dancers ... [in] the community that dance or have a studio or have taught dance or taken classes,” Albea said. “Then we ask them to be a part of Dancing with the Stars and then we pair them up with a local star in the community. [The celebrities are] people that are involved in the community and can get out and help us raise money. ... [They also] are well-liked and well-known.”
With the inaugural Cartersville Dances with the Stars netting about $60,000 in 2013, the event’s organizers are looking to generate $100,000 this year. For workers at the Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter and the school systems’ homeless education programs, these funds are greatly appreciated.
“Our special events are a pretty huge piece of our fundraising work during the year,” said Mitcham, who, in addition to participating in Cartersville Dances with the Stars, is the executive director for the Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter. “I think currently the shelter budget reflects 2 percent of funding from any kind of government source, because as the budget grows the piece of government funding has plateaued and stays the same.
“So as the budget grows that percentage goes down,” she said, adding the shelter’s current annual budget is $425,000. “So almost all of the funding that we raise is raised here locally.”
Since forming in 1996, Good Neighbor has served more than 5,200 people. While they are housed in the 4,600-square-foot facility that was built in 2001, Good Neighbor’s guests are required to find a job within four weeks, and the shelter’s staff helps them establish savings, focus on problem-solving skills and chart out future housing options. Along with a computer lab, the Good Neighbor also features a transitional housing component to its organization.
“Last year, once again, we served more folks than ever before,” Mitcham said. “Last year, we served 679 people, which was another 10 percent more than the prior year and that year was 20 percent prior. So it’s grown a good amount just in the last 24 to 36 months [as far as] the number of individuals we serve. So it’s really important for us to continue raising funds so that the men and women and families with children that need help getting back on their feet have the shelter available to them, to come and look for employment, find jobs, save money and be able to afford new housing.
“We have a mom here right now with four young children, ages kindergarten to sixth grade, and she is back to work for the first time in several years. ... [Her] kids all go to school and then they go to Boys & Girls Clubs after school. She’s doing tremendously well, but it takes work for our organization to be available to help individuals and families like her.”
For the city of Cartersville and Bartow County schools’ homeless education programs, the funds will help support the Least of These and BackPack Buddies initiatives. While the Least of These provides emergency assistance with clothing, food, eyeglasses, lodging and school activities, BackPack Buddies equips children in need with accessible food for the weekend.
“Stewart McKinney [Homeless Assistance Act], it’s a federal law that requires all school systems in the United States to provide equal or comparable services to homeless students that non-homeless students would get,” said Paula Womack, school social worker and homeless liaison for Cartersville City Schools. “So with that law comes requirements for all school systems, which might mean transportation for one child or tutoring. We can provide school supplies, those kinds of things.
“... So the fundraising that we do, the Dances with the Stars benefit money, that money is above and beyond the grant funds that we get, because those grant funds we can only use for tutoring, counseling, school supplies — very strict things that just have to do with school. So we created probably about four or five years ago two programs. One is the Least of These and the other is the BackPack Buddies program and through that we can serve homeless children and non-homeless children and provide services above and beyond just what the grant can provide for children.”
To purchase tickets to Cartersville Dances with the Stars, visit Compass Financial Partners at 680 Douthit Ferry Road in Cartersville or call 770-386-7007. While all of the tickets inside the ballroom are sold out, individuals still can secure a spot for $15 inside Carter Hall, where attendees can watch the event on a live-video feed.
For more information on Cartersville Dances with the Stars or to vote for a particular couple, visit www.goodneighborshelter.org or www.facebook.com/CartersvilleDancesWithTheStars. Along with attending the event, the community can support this effort by making a donation to Good Neighbor or sending their favorite celebrity’s first name and the amount they want to pledge in a text to 41444 through March 1.