Nov. 8, 2011 By Christian Murray
The Sunnyside/Woodside Boys & Girls Club held its annual “Dancing with the Stars” fundraiser on Saturday night and raised $25,000 – up from last year’s total of $10,000.
The fundraiser was based on the popular TV show ‘Dancing with the Stars’ that has swept the nation. In this local adaptation, nine couples, each consisting of a professional dancer and a noted Woodside/Sunnyside resident, turned out at the St. Teresa’s auditorium before an audience of 350 people 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 wine. Additionally, Dazies Restaurant subsidized the food, with Lily Gavin, the owner, bringing in workers to serve pasta, meatballs, Italian sausages, salad and bread.
Vincent Renda, the chairman of the Boys & Girls Club, introduced the event by discussing the group’s plans, which includes building a clubhouse in three years and expanding its children’s programs. Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who has been a supporter of the club even before he was in office, spoke along with State Sen. Mike Gianaris. Van Bramer who has already allocated $10,000 to the group, pledged another $5,000 to the club for next year.
The highlights came with the dancing. Well known Sunnysiders and Woodsiders such as Jimmy Van Bramer and Community Board 2 chairman Joe Conley were among the “stars” who danced (see video). There were some who doubted their ability before they danced—but both men answered their critics.
Other stars included Norberto Saldana, a pastoral minister at St. Teresa’s Church and president of the local Lion’s Club; Debra Guthrie, an ophthalmologist and a Sunnyside chamber member; John Storck, a pastor at Grace Fellowship Church; Mona Ahmed, a local volunteer; Maria Terezsa Avila, a former auxiliary police officer and current committee member of the Boy Scout Troop 390; Barbara McNish, an active member and volunteer at St Teresa’s Parish; and Gus Chalkias, a technology specialist at Baruch College who helps the visually impaired learn computer skills. Chalkias lost his eyesight to a genetic disease.
The event raised more funds this year since the club sold 100-125 more tickets ($60 per ticket), generated more revenue from its raffles and sold more ads in its program. “The $25,000 we raised, to be honest, was more than I expected,” Renda said.
However, for Renda, the highlight of the night was having “the whole community from every walk of life come together in the same room and have such a great time,” he said.
There were three judges just like the hit TV hit show. There was Veronica Reyes, Wellington Lora and Israel Martinez.
In this competition, however, the judges’ scores were inconsequential. The winner was based on the amount of money the star (couple) generated from the audience following their performance. Volunteers walked around with buckets collecting cash after each couple performed.
The dances included the Salsa, the Rumba, the Tango, Hip-Hop, and the Cha-Cha.
The couples danced in the middle of the auditorium surrounded by large tables where people ate, drank, clapped and cheered. The hall was decorated and all seats were full.
The winner of the event was Gus Chalkias, with Joe Conley coming in second. The crowd cheered for Chalkias, since many were inspired by how he was able to overcome his fears and perform despite his loss of sight.
Renda said that the club currently has one program that is held every Friday night. However, the club plans to introduce three additional programs.
The first will be a “Wellness Program” that will be held on Friday nights, where 10 kids get to go to the supermarket and are taught how to make healthy choices when they select food.
In January, the group plans to introduce an arts/theater program at Sunnyside Reform Church on Saturdays. The third program will be basketball, held during the week.
About 10% of the funds raised on Saturday will be set aside for the proposed club house.