Council for Exceptional Children are 'Dancing for Difference'

Category:  News
Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016 at 7:52 PM
Council for Exceptional Children are 'Dancing for Difference' by Dakota Palmer
Edinboro University students came together to help the Council for Exceptional Children in making ‘Dancing for a Difference’ a success. They made over $1,000.

On Friday, Feb. 26, dozens of volunteers, dancers and caretakers crowded into the Crawford Hall gymnasium for the Council for Exceptional Children’s (CEC) “Dancing for a Difference” event.

The members of CEC hosted this dance to raise money for Expanding Sociability Opportunities (ESO) for members of the community who have intellectual disabilities. Normally, CEC works with similar organizations from Gannon University, Mercyhurst University and Penn State Behrend to hold ESO dances throughout the school year.

These dances are sponsored by the Barber National Institute and are for adults ages 18 and older who have intellectual disabilities. Each school takes a turn hosting the dances.

Jackie Herrmann, a worker for the Agency with Choice Program at the Barber National Institute in Erie said the dance took around six months to plan. The planning included finding food, drinks, decorations, a DJ, volunteers, t-shirts, bottles, bracelets, and a check-in staff. However, the safety of the dancers was the planning priority.

Herrmann stated there were around 75 to 100 volunteers from the local colleges.

Volunteer and sophomore Edinboro student Emily Widomski said that even though the dance did not start until 6:30 p.m., there were people setting up in Crawford at 11 a.m.

“Plus, the most fun part is watching the dancers enjoy themselves because they don’t have the opportunity to just go into the community and have fun,” Widomski said.

Betty Hartman, volunteer and sophomore Edinboro student, stated, “The majority of volunteers are here because we are members of CEC, but more than that, we’re here because we want to be.”

Dr. Erik Bentsen, head of the special education program and advisor for CEC, said that the club has been involved in ESO dances for over five years. Typically around 100 dancers come to each dance.

“Our big point of pride is that Edinboro has at least that number of student volunteers even when we aren’t the college hosting the dance. Our volunteers always have the best showing,” said Bentsen.

The preparation for this dance was not easy; in fact, club president Lizzie Donikowski began planning this dance last summer. She, along with other dedicated members of CEC, originally wanted to hold a 24-hour dance following the autism walk. However, they decided to hold an ESO dance that would serve as a fundraiser instead.

Donikowski and CEC member Ashley Ohmer wanted to hold an event that would give back financially to the community.

“From winter break until now, we’ve worked every weekend and three to five nights during the week planning this dance,” Donikowski said.

“Whether I was at Lizzie’s house or we were at the library, we’ve put in a lot of hours for this dance. We put in around 50 hours the week leading up to the dance,” Ohmer said.

Because this dance was the first of its kind, it required an exceptional amount of planning and organizing. Typically, ESO dances are opportunities for adults with intellectual disabilities to have fun and socialize with their peers. “Dancing for a Difference,” however, is the first dance any of the local colleges have hosted where they were raising money for the adults.

Gannon University senior Kara Fisher is the president for Gannon’s Society for Exceptional Children (GUSEC). She has been involved in the club for four years and said, “I think these dances are really awesome. It’s great to have a Friday night dance the adults really didn’t have in high school.”

Gannon University senior Michelle Nuara has been a member of GUSEC for three years and board member for ESO for one year. Her main job is to help put on the function, dance with the adults and check permission slips at the registration table. She said that about 10 volunteers from Gannon were at the event.

“It’s very rewarding to see how excited the dancers are. It’s such a fun time and I look forward to it as much as the dancers do,” Nuara said.

Director of Residential Services at Erie Homes for Children and Adults Marcia Nitczynski said, “My favorite part of the dances is the self-expression and the opportunity to let the residents be themselves.”

Nitczynski has been bringing residents from Erie Homes to the ESO dances for four years.

Donikowski stated that after a series of obstacles in planning, the officers said, “We are going to do this no matter what stands in our way.”

It turns out they were right and they ended up making over $1,000 at the event and “are hoping to still raise [more] money before we donate the final check.”

All proceeds from the dance are going to further expand social opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

“I greatly appreciate Edinboro doing this; no one has ever done this for ESO before,” said Herrmann.

Dakota Palmer is the Online Editor for The Spectator.

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