Arts lovers seeking to make a difference in the lives of homeless youths have two options this weekend — and there’s no need to choose between song and dance.
The eighth annual Dance to Make a Difference gala happens Saturday, and the 10th annual A Really Big Shoe is Sunday.
Both events started in part as performance opportunities, Dance to Make a Difference for Studio West Dance Theatre and A Really Big Shoe for Entertainment Explosion, a performance group for people 50 and older.
And both events are focused on giving back as well as entertaining.
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“When we first opened the studio in 2008, we wanted to put on a couple of performances our first year,” said Stephanie Wood-Ennett, co-director of Studio West. “We were on a low budget, so we wanted to do it within the studio.”
One of those small performances was the first Dance to Make a Difference.
“It was personal,” Wood-Ennett said. “I’d been living paycheck to paycheck, working as a dancer and a barista. I had wanted to donate to causes, and I could never do it because I was just scraping by.”
The fundraiser, which began with just two participating dance companies, has grown into a full evening event with dinner and eight participating companies. It outgrew the studio after its first year and last year raised $3,000 for SafePlace.
In its first nine years, Entertainment Explosion’s Shoe has raised $212,000 for homeless youths. Money raised is divided among the eight Thurston County school districts’ funds to help homeless students and Community Youth Services, a nonprofit that offers services and support for at-risk and homeless youth.
“It doesn’t solve the problem, but it helps one child at a time,” said Scott Schoengarth, who came up with the idea for the Shoe and has served as its director for the past five years.
“The idea was to give all of our performers a chance to perform on the big stage at the Washington Center. Then we realized we were going to make money. We wondered what to do with it.
“The next day in the Olympian, there was a story about homeless kids.”
This year’s Shoe will feature a cast of local seniors performing folk tunes originally recorded by Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Arlo Guthrie, among others. Schoengarth expects the event to raise at least $25,000.
Dance to Make a Difference aims to raise money and awareness of a nonprofit’s work. A nonprofit is chosen each spring by a vote on the studio’s website and Facebook page, and the studio helps the organization in various ways throughout the following school year.
“We want to get our young dancers involved in the community,” said Loanne Dang, a member of the Studio West Dance Guild, a nonprofit group that raises money and sponsors programs for the studio as well as overseeing the gala. “This allows them to see where they fit in their community and how they can contribute.”
Since September, Dang and daughters Mai-Nhien, 17, a senior at Olympia High School, and Lani, 15, a freshman, along with other dancers and their parents, have been volunteering with Homeless Backpacks, preparing bags of food that are distributed to homeless youths on Fridays so they’ll have enough to eat on weekends.
Dang was inspired to volunteer after learning about Homeless Backpacks when it was the chosen nonprofit for the 2014 gala.
“Last year, I told my daughters I was thinking of volunteering, and both of them said they wanted to volunteer with me,” she said. “My older daughter really connected with their mission, because she knows it supports her fellow students at Olympia High School.
“It’s a way she can give back to her friends and her community.”
The joy of giving back to those in need is shared by the seniors of Entertainment Explosion.
“We never meet the kids we help,” Schoengarth said, “but we get stories back saying, ‘We bought 22 pairs of shoes’ or ‘We made it possible for someone to go to the prom.’ This money is used for all those kinds of things that these kids just don’t have money for.”
But the need for shoes is only a small part of the reason for the name A Really Big Shoe.
“That’s what Ed Sullivan used to say when he introduced his acts,” Schoengarth said. “ ‘We’ve got a really big shoe for you tonight.’ ”
Dance to Make a Difference
What: Studio West Dance Theatre’s eighth annual gala fundraiser features eight regional dance companies, dinner and more. This year’s gala will raise funds for Homeless Backpacks.
When: Gala at 6 p.m. Saturday; performance at 8 p.m.
Where: The Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the Arts, South Puget Sound Community College, 2011 Mottman Road SW, Olympia.
Tickets: $40 for gala, including wine, dinner and dessert; $15 for performance only.
Participating companies: The event includes hip-hop, jazz and ballet performances by two Seattle-based professional companies — Third Shift Dance and Ktisk Contemporary Dance Co. — along with Olympia’s Studio West Dance Theatre, Audacity Cru, Ballet Northwest and Edge; Tacoma’s Washington Contemporary Ballet, and the Chehalis-based Southwest Washington Dance Ensemble.
A Really Big Shoe 10: An Entertainment Explosion Folk Fest
What: The 10th annual Shoe, produced by Entertainment Explosion, features a bunch of seniors singing, dancing and raising money for homeless youths.
When: 2 p.m. Sunday.
Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia.
By the numbers
Dance to Make a Difference
First fundraiser: 2009
Funds expected this year: $4,000
Youngest performer: 12
A Really Big Shoe
First fundraiser: 2007
Funds expected this year: $25,000
Oldest performer: 87