Muskegon’s stars are shining brightly this weekend.
The Muskegon Women’s Division Chamber of Commerce’s 11th annual Dancing with the Local Stars is underway, and the yearly event is expected to surpass its goal of landing $1 million in total fundraising to battle food insecurity in our region. The $1 million mark represents fundraising since the show’s inception.
Kicking off at the Holiday Inn in downtown Muskegon on Thursday, the four-performance dancing extravaganza featuring professional dancers and community leaders raises money for food pantries and food programs in Muskegon, Oceana and Ottawa counties. Over the past decade, 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.
“What we’ve contributed back to the community is really moving,” Dancing with the Local Stars Co-Chair Karen Mogdics said Friday evening.
Food pantries and programs apply to receive funding from the event—and that money has meant some of these organizations could keep their doors open.
“It’s astronomical what we’ve provided,” Mogdics said. “There are food pantries that said they couldn’t have stayed open without our funding.”
Hundreds of people gathered for the sold-out shows on Thursday and Friday night, and two performances, which are also sold out, will be held Saturday. Thirty-four individuals are participating in the event, including 24 “community stars” and 10 professional dancers. The community stars are a diverse group of leaders representing nonprofits and businesses throughout the region.
Since early December, the professional dancers and community stars have been practicing for this weekend’s event—often hitting the dance floor as frequently as several times a week.
“The dancers every year have told me that when they’re done, there’s a sadness,” Mogdics said. “They’ve built relationships with people.”
The four members of Team Twilight, who won the Critic’s Choice, People’s Choice and Best of Show awards Thursday night, said they’ve not only been grateful to be a part of the event, but to have formed strong bonds with their dancing partners.
“We’ve had amazing chemistry; I love my team,” said Hon. Brenda Sprader, a professional dancer and an elected Muskegon County Probate Court judge.
After sweeping the awards Thursday night, the team gets to select three nonprofits to send their winning funds to; they’ll be supporting Kids Food Basket, MARS in Ravenna, and Mission for Area People in Muskegon Heights.
“It’s a blessing and an honor to do this,” Team Twilight member Bonnie Adamczak-Brown, a senior vice-president of investments with the Norden/Adamczak Investment Group of Raymond James, said of the Dancing with the Local Stars experience. “We love the cause, helping the community.”
Team Twilight member Sgt. Dennis Luce, who works for the city of Coopersville as a branch supervisor, too said the experience has had a profound effect on him.
“It’s completely out of the comfort zone, but it’s completely amazing,” Luce said.
Dr. Michael Rykse, a chiropractor and the owner of AlignLife Chiropractic & Natural Health Center in Norton Shores, agreed.
“It’s been a great experience,” Rykse said. “We have an amazing pro, so we’ve been fortunate.”
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. Recently, when the polar vortex forced area schools to close, Muskegon students who rely on their schools for meals were left struggling to find food. To address this, some schools opened to provide meals, and the Boys & Girls Club of the Muskegon Lakeshore and Kids Food Basket partnered to offer a free meal delivery service for families.
Boys & Girls Club of the Muskegon Lakeshore CEO Dakota Crow, who donned a pirate costume as a member of Dancing with the Local Stars’ Team Renegade, previously spoke to the Muskegon Times about the role food insecurity plays in the lives of children living in our community. About 90 percent of the 1,000-plus 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 in the previous interview. “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 at school and after-school programs—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.”
See more photos and videos of performances from Thursday and Friday evenings below.
Team Renegade members Sandy Nolan, a pro dancer and the owner of Sandy Noland Design, performs with Dakota Crow, the CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of the Muskegon Lakeshore.
Francine Calandro, the pro dancer with Team Francine & The Bad Boys and a fitness and personal trainer for Age Well Services, performs Thursday evening.
Team Stage & Screen’s Bob Garretson, a financial advisor, and Andrea VanBeek, a pro dancer who is a dance instructor and choreographer for Lakeshore Dance Academy and a co-founding member of the Third Coast Dance Co-op. Van Beek is also a nurse case manager/preceptor for Mary Free Bed at Home.
Team Twilight performs before sweeping the awards Thursday evening.
[From left to right] Team Boys are Back in Town members Carly Switzer, Joshua Reece, Joe Gorbach, Jonathan Wilson, Mary Switzer, and Bill Noordhoff.
Emcees Stacy Shepherd and Jon Felske had the crowd laughing Friday night.
Team Stage & Screen perform.
Team Page 1 & The Fly Girls.
Pro dancer Patrick Johnson returns to the Dancing with the Local Stars for his 11th year. Johnson is the founding director and current president of the West MI Flight Academy and the co-owner of P.T. Arts, LLC.
Team Sisters Johnson 2.0 performs.
A pirate revs up the crowd before Team Renegade performs.
Emcees Stacy Shepherd, who danced her way to the Miss Michigan Crown in 2001 and was a top 10 finalist at the Miss America Pageant, and Andy Buelow, the executive director of the West Michigan Symphony and The Block.
Dr. David Armbrecht, the pro dancer with Team Dancing with the Spies, performs Friday evening.
Team Dancing with the Spies.
Team Dancing with the Spies.
Third Coast Dance members wow the crowd.
Tirza Fierros-Snuffer entertains the crowd between dance numbers.
Third Coast Dance members perform Friday evening.
Dancers at the end of Thursday night’s performance.
Team Twilight in a whirlwind of lights.
Lisa Jirikovic is back for her 10th year as a pro dancer with Dancing with the Local Stars. She starred with Rob Riegler, the owner of Lakeside Surfaces Inc.
Team Twilight sweeps Thursday night’s awards.