There but for the grace of g-d go I

At Joe Cornell, we have been fortunate to have been embraced and supported by the community we have served for more than 50 years.  Teaching kids “how to be cool” while also empowering them with social etiquette through dance has been the cornerstone of our business since 1957.  This season, we challenged ourselves and our students with a new lesson.  A lesson on life and social responsibility.

There but for the grace of G-d go I.

With more than 300 6th grade students in our 13 week dance class program, we wanted to create an initiative – off the dance floor  – to engage our students in working together toward a common goal and instilling in them the qualities of leaders by helping a charitable organization.  The kids would choose the benefactor – democratically, as a group – and they would also set the goals for the effort.  Their input would shape the planning, the dedication would rest on their shoulders, and the lessons learned would be personal.

We named the volunteer group “Joe’s Crew,” and figured we’d be lucky if we found 10 or 12 interested students this first time around.  I mean, kids today are so busy!  They’re already overwhelmed with extracurricular programming (and their parents are, too).  Adding a volunteer group – with monthly meetings and tasks – we didn’t know if it would work with everyone’s schedule - or anyone’s.

52.  That was how many kids volunteered to take part.  We were excited to get started.

At their first meeting (bowling and pizza!) Joe’s Crew participants chose a charity to benefit from their efforts.  The parameters were simple:  Keep it local so they could witness the impact, keep it youth oriented so they could relate.  Joe’s Crew members presented charities to the others in the group with which they had knowledge or experience, and our staff made presentations, as well.  Some of the choices:  Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation; JARC; Yad Ezra; Gleaners; The Bear Hug Foundation, The Friendship Circle…all great organizations doing a world of good.

The kids overwhelmingly voted to support Michigan-based Kids Kicking Cancer, and they’d do it through a dance-a-thon – a perfect show of all they’d learned in Joe Cornell.

There but for the grace of G-d go I.

In subsequent meetings, the kids stayed focused and their enthusiasm grew. They met local celebrity, Lila Lazarus, president of KKC’s national board of directors.   They created a Joe’s Crew Facebook page to link participants together for updates and strategizing.  They set a pledge goal of $3500.

Of course, the parents of these team members played a pivotal role in the process!  Driving, rearranging schedules, in some cases calling in favors for pledge donations, and in general, showing their support.  The seeds of social responsibility are planted at home.

When the big night arrived – January 18th – the turnout for the dance-a-thon at Orchard Mall in West Bloomfield was great – 200 people gathered to watch these energetic kids dance for an hour straight.  Setting the tone, Kids Kicking Cancer kids kicked off the night with a martial arts and meditation presentation and Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg (“Rabbi G”) spoke about how Kids Kicking Cancer helps children face life’s scariest challenges.

Until that moment, the Joe’s Crew kids had been raising funds for “a good cause”.  Finally, they met the kids they were helping – and made a personal connection – everything changed.

Our students enjoyed dancing with their students.

There but for the grace of G-d go I.

Altogether, Joe’s Crew participants raised $5100!  They left feeling proud.  Excited.  Amazed.  Inspired.  They touched lives, and their lives were touched.  Forever.

Joe’s Crew member Rachel Wasserman, 12, summed up her experience:  “When a group of kids gets together, they can make a big imprint on the world.  Joe’s Crew is doing that!”