Vincent Renda, the chairman of the Sunnyside Woodside Boys & Girls Club, set the mood for the group’s “Dancing with the Stars” fundraiser on Saturday night when he talked about this neighborhood’s heroes.
“Heroes span the generations in Woodside and Sunnyside—from Corporal Thomas Noonan, who died in Vietnam and won the Medal of Honor to Michael Brennan the fire fighter who died on 9/11.” This club is about “creating the next generation of heroes and the generations after that.”
To meet that end, Renda and his 21-member board, held a fundraiser based on the popular TV show ‘Dancing with the Stars’ that has swept the nation. In this local adaptation, ten couples, each consisting of a professional dancer and a noted Woodside/Sunnyside resident, turned out at the St. Raphael auditorium before an audience of nearly 250 residents to dance in the name of the Boys & Girls Club charity.
Local businesses helped underwrite the fundraiser, with Bar 43 providing free beer and Lowery Liquors donating all of the wine (72 bottles in total). Additionally, Dazies Restaurant subsidized the food, with Lily Gavin, the owner, bringing in workers to serve pasta, meatballs, Italian sausages, bread and salad.
By the end of the evening, more than $6,000 was raised. However, that figure might rise, since the winners of the raffle (first prize: $10,000; second prize: $7,000) have indicated that they might donate some of it back to the club.
Additionally, the night proved to be a great advertisement for the cause as many people came forward expressing an interest to volunteer. Most importantly, it drove a stake into the ground that the group is here to stay.
The evening began with the board members and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer being introduced to the audience. Van Bramer, who has been a supporter of the club even before he took office, provided a grant of $5,000 this year, and assured the group that he would provide an additional $5,000 grant next year if City funds are available.
Attendees to the event came from a cross section of the neighborhood, from Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce members, Woodside on the Move representatives, James Bray, the executive director of Sunnyside Shines and local veterans’ group members.
In fact, when Eduardo Avila, a dancer and wounded combat veteran from Operation Iraqi Freedom, was introduced he received a standing ovation for his service to the nation.
Children, too, performed. Youngsters from PS 125 & Precise Dance Studio entertained the audience with a variety of dramatically choreographed dances.
Then it was on to the couple’s event.
There were three judges who bore a striking resemblance to those on the TV hit show. There was Veronica Reyes, who looked a little like Carrie Ann Inaba, Chris Kitson a “Brit” like Len Goodman, and Welling Lora, who played a Bruno Tonioli-type role.
In this competition, however, the judges’ scores were inconsequential. The winner was based on the amount of money each couple generated from the audience following their performance. Local boy scouts walked around with red buckets collecting cash after each couple performed.
Each couple danced once. The dances included the Salsa, the Cha Cha, the Mambo, the Tango, Merengue, the Foxtrot, the Hustle and the Waltz.
The couples danced in the middle of the auditorium surrounded by large round tables where people ate, drank, clapped and cheered. The hall was decorated with balloons and glittery stars and illuminated snowflakes projected onto the walls. All seats were full.
The winners of the event were Nancy Brooks, who was born and raised in Sunnyside and is a 2nd grade teacher at PS199, and Henry Falconi, a Sunnyside resident who studies and teaches dance.
The funds from Saturdays’ event should ensure that two new programs go into effect this January, which would be for boy and girls aged 12 to 14 years.
The first program will be the “Sunnyside Torch Club” (as in carrying the torch for the next generation) that will focus on team-building and leadership initiatives. It will run from 6-8pm on Wednesdays.
The other program will take place on Saturdays, from 6-10pm. The first two hours will be spent playing sports; the remaining period would be spent watching a movie and eating a pizza. There would be paid staff—through the Variety Boys & Girls Club of Astoria.
The club is still determining a location for the programs.
Renda, the chairman, said “the event was phenomenal” and plans to organize another one next year. He said that the group will continue to have “happy hour with purpose”, an event where supporters of the group meet up for dinner and a beer to raise funds.
“I feel so passionate about this club,” Renda said. “When I grew up the school yards were open and available. Today the school yards are locked up or they have been built over with trailer annexes.”
“I want the future generation to have it as good as we did. I want to afford them the same opportunity.”
NOTE: Special thanks goes to Joe Gurrado for providing the photos