Muskegon’s Dancing with the Local Stars brings together community leaders, professional dancers to tackle hunger & food insecurity

Last year’s Dancing with the Local Stars raised $170,000 for local food pantries and food programs. Photo by Leo Valdez

With more than 25,000 people in Muskegon County facing food insecurity, it is very likely you know someone who is hungry. Perhaps you are hungry. Or a family member. Maybe it’s a student of yours. A friend who doesn’t want to tell you they don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

About 25,190 people are food insecure in Muskegon, according to Feeding America, a national hunger relief organization. That means close to 15 percent of the county is grappling with hunger. With not being able to afford food and electricity at the same time. Or food and rent. Or food and medicine.

It means people are feeling the physical pain and mental anguish that accompanies hunger—something that, for those who haven’t experienced it, can be difficult to truly understand.

After all, what does it really mean to face food insecurity? It’s not just that you’re hungry—though you are. It’s that you genuinely are not sure where, or how, to get your next meal—or the meals for your family. It’s not having access to affordable and healthy food in your neighborhood—and not having transportation to get to the closest grocery store.

Hunger is not just hunger: it is accompanied by overwhelming waves of panic, depression, and feelings of helplessness. Individuals experiencing hunger face wide-ranging and long-lasting health effects, from being nearly three times more likely to have a chronic condition than those who are not hungry and being 2.45 times more likely to be obese due to poor nutrition; teens who are hungry are five times more likely to commit suicide, according to the Alliance to End Hunger.

When a basic need like food isn’t being met, it hammers away at all other aspects of the life you’re trying to build, from performance in school and at jobs to family relationships.

All of this is why the Women’s Division Chamber of Commerce launched the first “Dancing with the Local Stars” in 2009—and why they’ve continued to put it on each year since: they are determined to tackle the food insecurity that is deeply rooted within our community. As the 11th annual dancing extravaganza in February nears, the group is set to once again raise significant funding for food pantries and food programs in Muskegon, Oceana and Ottawa counties. Over the past 10 years, Dancing with the Local Stars received $923,000 in donations for these organizations; last year alone, the event landed $170,000 that went to 34 pantries and programs throughout the region. This year, they’re set to surpass the $1 million mark in overall fundraising.

Dance pro Mary Switzer, left, and Women’s Division Chamber of Commerce Dancing with the Local Stars Co-Chairwoman Mary Kendall. Photo by Leo Valdez

“It speaks to my heart because I didn’t know how well this would be received,” Women’s Division Chamber of Commerce Dancing with the Local Stars Co-Chairwoman Mary Kendall said Friday night at the Holiday Inn in downtown Muskegon, where the organization announced the 31 individuals—21 “community stars” and 10 professional dancers—participating in this year’s event.

Dancing with the Local Stars will feature four shows, one on Thursday, Feb. 21, another on Friday, Feb. 22, and two on Saturday, Feb. 23. Each performance will be held at the Holiday Inn in downtown Muskegon, and this year’s theme will be “Winter Wonderland.”

Those involved in the show are a diverse group of community leaders representing nonprofits and businesses throughout the region. The entire list of this year’s dancers is provided at the end of this article.

More than 400 attendees are expected to be in the audience for each show, and the event is a whirlwind of professional-level dancing, intricate costumes, and leaders who want to, once and for all, stamp out hunger in our area.

“This event has truly become the community event that everyone can count on to make an impact in a fun and engaging way,” Kendall said. “Our mission is to give back and help stock those food pantries during the winter months when the shelves are empty.”

Boys & Girls Club of the Muskegon Lakeshore CEO Dakota Crow, left, and dance pro Sandy Nolan, the owner and independent contractor of Sandy Nolan Kitchen & Bath Design. Photo by Anna Gustafson

One of the event’s community stars, Boys & Girls Club of the Muskegon Lakeshore CEO Dakota Crow will be donning a pirate costume as part of his first-ever Dancing with the Local Stars.

“It’s a very fun way to raise funds and also draw awareness to a serious issue,” said Crow, who noted that children working with the Boys & Girls Club of the Muskegon Lakeshore often struggle finding food outside of the school day. Approximately 90 percent of the 1,000 youth served by the local Boys & Girls Club are eligible for free and reduced lunch, which means they are living at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level. This translates to a child living in a household where a family of two is making $1,784 a month—$21,408 annually; $2,252 a month for a family of three—$27,024 each year; and so on.

“Food insecurity is a very large reality, and a very large population, of Muskegon County,” Crow said. “Our [Boys and Girls Club] kids will miss several meals at a time and not have access to any food, or, if there is food, it’s not very healthy food.”

Numerous local organizations, from the Boys & Girls Club to Kids’ Food Basket, among many others, are working to address food insecurity, both with immediate relief—providing healthy food—to addressing root causes of food insecurity, such as poverty and racism.

At the Boys & Girls Club, for example, students are provided with food during after-school programs, and they are given breakfast, lunch, a snack, and dinner during the summer months.

“The kids are very appreciative of it,” Crow said. “We have kids who literally show up just for food.”

While something like Dancing with the Local Stars won’t, of course, be able to entirely solve food insecurity in the community, it does support the immediate relief being offered by pantries—as well as further dialogue centered on addressing it.

“I think a lot of us live in bubbles,” Crow said, explaining the need for conversation regarding food insecurity. “We need to understand that you do have to get involved and, yes, there’s a need, and maybe there’s a bigger root to the problem.”

“How in the world can you be expected to do well in school when you’re very, very hungry?” Crow continued. “For those who want to see education systems change, there’s a lot of other social factors [that need to be addressed], like hunger.”

Dance pro Patrick Johnson and the community stars he’ll be working with during Dancing with the Local Stars. Photo by Leo Valdez

For professional dancers Patrick Johnson and Michael Page, Jr., Dancing with the Local Stars is a way for them to teach what they love—dance—while simultaneously making a difference.

“I’ve been involved with this for the past 11 years; [Community Foundation for Muskegon County President and CEO] Chris McGuigan was my first partner, and I fell in love with Muskegon,” said Johnson, a professional dancer born in the Bahamas who was a leading member of the Dance Theatre of Harlem in New York City and now lives in Grand Rapids.

“[The event] is going to be the craziest, yet most fun and exciting evening ever,” said Johnson, who has given performances for Nelson Mandela, former Vice President Al Gore, the late Princess Diana, and Queen Elizabeth II. “It’ll be the most exciting time you’ve ever had at a fundraising event. There’s hooting and hollering—sometimes the emcees have to be like, ‘Quiet down.’ It’s great fun, and you’re doing a good thing for the community.”

Dance pro Michael Page, Jr., second from left, and the group he’ll be working with during Dancing with the Local Stars. Photo by Leo Valdez

Page, who teaches at Social Dance Studio in Grand Rapids, has participated in the event for the past three years, and he noted he’s seen a number of community leaders evolve into incredible dancers.

“This showcases the hidden talents of our community,” Page said. “It’s a great event.”

This year’s community stars are:

  • Christina Achterhoff, Laketon Township Clerk
  • Christopher Anderson, Fruitport Firefighter
  • Bonnie Adamczyk-Brown, Senior Vice President of Investments at Norden/Adamczak Group of Raymond James
  • Morgan Buck, Director of Sales & Marketing for Schuitema Moving & Storage
  • Dakota Crow, Chief Executive Officer of the Boys & Girls Club of Muskegon
  • Bob Garretson, Owner of Grand Shore Solutions
  • Joe Gorbach, Co-Owner of Firehouse Subs
  • Jenny Hart Locke, Owner of Village Inn Restaurant
  • Dennis Luce, Ottawa County Sheriff Deputy
  • Lacy Bridges-Mosher, Owner of Create.A.Frame.Studio
  • Bill Noordhoff, Manager at Bill Noordhoff Plumbing, LLC
  • Kristine Patterson, Behavior Health Therapist with Catholic Charities West Michigan
  • Larry Pellet, Physical Therapist Assistant at Select Rehabilitation
  • Rob Riegler, Owner & President of Lakeside Surfaces, Inc.
  • Michele Ringelberg, Owner of ThrivePOP
  • Dr. Michael Rykse, Ownerof AlignLife Chiropractic & Natural Health Center
  • Jennifer Schultz, Health Coach/Educator with Team Live Inspired
  • Mary Suarez, Lead Ambassador & Event Coordinator at Hope Project
  • Emma Torresen, Community Foundation for Muskegon County Donor Relationship Manager
  • Lisa Wright, Dayspring Administrator
  • Jami Young, Winter Sun Schoolhouse Founder & Reeths-Puffer Pennsylvania Elementary Site Coordinator

This year’s dance pros are:

  • Dr. David Armbrecht, Orthodontist with Armbrecht & Wierenga Orthodontics, five-year participant
  • Francine Calandro, Fitness Specialist & Personal Trainer at AgeWell Services at Tanglewood Park, 11-year participant
  • Lisa Jirikovic, On-Call Physical Therapist at Reliant Rehabilitation, 11-year participant
  • Patrick Johnson, PT Arts, LLC Consulting Co-Owner & West Michigan Flight Academy President & CEO & Grand Rapids Community College Dance Faculty Instructor, 11-year participant
  • Chris Kuhn, Co-Owner & President of Seal-Tec, first-year participant
  • Sandy Nolan, Owner & Independent Contractor of Sandy Nolan Kitchen & Bath Design, first-year participant
  • Michael Page, Social Dance Studio Dancer, three-year participant
  • Hon. Brenda E. Sprader, Professional Dancer & Instructor, 11-year participant
  • Mary Switzer, THE GYM Owner & Trainer, 10-year participant
  • Andrea VanBeek, RN Case Manager/Preceptor at Mary Free Bed at Home, four-year participant

Evening performance tickets for Dancing with the Local Stars cost $45, and matinee tickets cost $35. Tickets will be available for purchase Jan. 2, 2019 by calling 231-798-4244 or please visit for details.

Story by Anna Gustafson, the publisher and editor of Muskegon Times. Connect with Anna by emailing or on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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