With a step, slide, pivot and twirl, eight local residents have a spotlight on area nonprofits in need.
This chosen group has been practicing their tango, jitterbug and jive for months as the newest crop of Dancing With the Johnson County Stars participants.
The annual fundraiser is back for another spin around the dance floor. Dancers have been rehearsing their moves throughout the year while raising money to help the nonprofit of their choice.
All of their hard work culminates in a two-night extravaganza on Aug. 12 and 13 at the Historic Artcraft Theatre.
“It’s heartwarming to see the community support this,” said Barb Miller, organizer of the event. “It almost brings tears to your eyes.”
Participants have the opportunity to raise thousands of dollars for organizations they feel passionately about. The competition has brought in a total of $3.1 million over the course of eight years, including $1.6 million last year.
At the same time, they can raise awareness about groups
“I feel very honored to be able to participate in this event because I am helping ASSIST Indiana with their financial needs and bringing awareness out there,” said Natalie Hendrix-Evans, one of the dancers in this year’s event. “I have helped support several friends over the years through their experiences with violence and it is important to me that ASSIST Indiana has the finances to help the communities in Johnson County.”
Hendrix-Evans is an avid dancer in the community, in addition to being a longtime supporter of ASSIST Indiana. She learned about Dancing with the Johnson County Stars last year, and pledged that she would join the competition one day.
“When I saw it, I told myself I would be willing to do that someday when the opportunity arose,” she said in an email. “I thought it was a very cool way to raise money for non-profit organizations in Johnson County that is different from the usual fundraisers you hear about, and I’m passionate about dancing.”
Raising money for ASSIST Indiana, a nonprofit which provides resources, support and counseling to immediate victims of sexual violence in addition to those close to victims who have been impacted by it, is the foremost goal for Hendrix-Evans. But the event also allows her to raise awareness in another way. She has been Deaf since birth, but has danced at Five Star Dance Studio in Greenwood since 2014. She wants to use her own experience to show the value of artistic expression.
“I hope to make people realize that Deaf people don’t need to be able to hear in order to dance. I love dancing as a way to express myself without limits,” she said in an email.
ASSIST Indiana is one of the eight organizations represented in this year’s Dancing with the Johnson County Stars. Included are a mix of previous participants, such as Humane Society of Johnson County, Rest & Restore Ministries, Dog Tags and Youth Connections, as well as new nonprofits. Bridges Alliance of Johnson County, the Good Cheer Fund and Turning Point Domestic Violence Services are all first-timers this year.
Carol Phipps has been involved with Bridges Alliance since it was formed and has been moved by the way that it helps people in the community escape poverty. When asked by the group to help them raise money through Dancing with the Johnson County Stars, she felt honored to do so.
The experience has exceeded her expectations.
“I’ve realized that ordinary people can do extraordinary things. Seeing the donations that we’ve raised is amazing,” she said in an email. “One of the passages from a favorite poem of mine is, ‘Think big and your deeds will grow, think small and you’ll fall behind; think that you can, you will, it’s all in your state of mind.’”
Each agency is in charge of raising money for their cause, planning fundraisers big and small throughout the summer months. To be included in the competition, organizations have to serve the entire county, have a strong volunteer base and a committed board, Miller said.
Michele Lee, community service director for Turning Point in Johnson County, is dancing for her organization this year. She has been a supporter of Dancing with the Johnson County Stars in the past, and when she changed roles to be with Turning Point earlier this year, she had the opportunity to dance for the agency.
“I’d been involved with a different agency the past seven years. I’ve always enjoyed what it stands for. Barb works diligently to mentor these agencies, to help them in fundraising and bring awareness to their agency,” she said.
That aspect has been particularly appealing to Lee, who found when she started at Turning Point that not many people throughout the county knew about the organization.
“This is another piece of my getting out there and bringing awareness and outreach to the community that Turning Point is here,” she said. “What better way to do that than with Dancing with the Stars and putting myself out there as a dancer?”
Dancing with the Johnson County Stars was created by Miller in 2014 to play off the popularity of the hit television show, “Dancing with the Stars.” She had seen other similar events in central Indiana, and thought it would be a good way to raise money to support area organizations.
The event is a platform allowing small nonprofits to participate in a major event with no financial risk, Miller said. Event sponsors pay all of the costs of the event — printing, venue, dance lessons, etc. The agencies and their dancers do fundraising and keep all of the monies they raise.
With the contest format, the fundraiser could help multiple nonprofits at the same time, rather than go to just one agency.
“It has helped a lot of small nonprofits that didn’t have a lot of fundraising experience learn how to do that,” Miller said. “During that first year, I kept hearing people say, ‘I didn’t know that,” about fundraising. the whole point of this has been to be an incubator — to teach people how to fish, not to give them fish.”
In the first year of the event, participants raised more than $180,000 combined for their individual groups. That number has increased year after year, including the record $1.6 million that came in 2021. Much of that came from dollars made available due to COVID-19 pandemic after the competition was canceled in 2020, Miller said.
Each dancer is asked to raise $5,000 on their own for the agency they’re representing. Whoever raises the most is named the Most Valuable Dancer at the event. The coveted Mirror Ball Trophy goes to the agency and dancer that raises the most money, Miller said.
For the two-night dance event, hundreds of people come out to cheer on their friends and families. Those people come away with a great understanding of the important work the participating nonprofits do in the community, Miller said.
“One of the bigger things, almost more than the money, is getting the knowledge of their organization out to the public. There are so many nonprofits, and they all do good work, but so many people don’t know anything about them,” she said.
IF YOU GO
Dancing With the Johnson County Stars
What: A dancing competition featuring community members representing and raising money for seven local organizations.
When: 7 p.m. Aug. 12 and 13
Where: Historic Artcraft Theatre, 57 N. Main St., Franklin
Tickets: Friday Preview — adults $10, children under 12 $5; Saturday Main Event — adults $30, children $10 (includes refreshment). Tickets are available at the Artcraft Theatre, from any of the participating agencies and by calling 317-409-0908.
Dancers and agencies:
- Tom Sprague — Rest & Restore Ministries
- Jesse Spurlling — Humane Society of Johnson County
- Jill Napier — Youth Connections
- Carol Phipps — Bridges Alliance of Johnson County
- Natalie Hendrix-Evans — ASSIST Indiana
- Shoshanah Riley — Dog Tags
- Freddie Waters — Good Cheer Fund
- Michele Lee — Turning Point Domestic Violence Services
Information and tickets: Facebook.com/DWTJCS or historicartcrafttheatre.org/movie-and-events-schedule.