Volunteering and Dancing for a Good Cause
Fire Island Dance Festival 2009 crew. About 2/3 of this group are volunteers!
For more than nine years, Alison Schwartz has joined her friends and other volunteers to serve as crew and event staff for the Fire Island Dance Festival, a summer benefit produced by Dancers Responding to AIDS (DRA), a program of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (BCEFA). With more than 800 annual attendees, the two-day festival operates with the help of as many as 20 volunteer crew staff, not to mention the upwards of 50 dancers who also volunteer their time.
This year was the 15th anniversary of the festival, and the event raised a whopping $246,000. The festival takes place in a neighborhood on Fire Island called The Pines—a community with a strong dedication to the arts and many different social causes. Since its inception in 1995, the Fire Island Dance Festival has raised a staggering $1.9 million to help support people living with HIV/AIDS, social services for performing professionals, and women's health programs.
Each year, volunteers and staff build from scratch a full-size dance stage with sound and lighting, as well as a stadium-style seating section for more than 275 attendees at each of the 3 performances on the deck of a private home that overlooks the South Bay of Long Island. All of the equipment, platforms, chairs, and food must be shipped over from Long Island by boat and then manually pushed to the venue house on wooden boardwalks.
The festival features up to 12 companies each year, including such audience favorites as Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, MOMIX, Miami City Ballet, and Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet. Each year the event is hosted by an entertainment celebrity, with this year's host being Bruce Villanch. Past hosts have included Whoopi Goldberg, Alan Cumming, Ana Gasteyer, and Caroline Rhea.
Denise Roberts Hurlin, Founding Director of DRA can't praise the volunteer effort enough. She said, "The foundation of every non-profit organization is its volunteers. Without their generosity of spirit, we would never accomplish the fantastic work we are able to achieve at DRA & Broadway Cares!"
Roberts Hurlin sees the Fire Island Dance Festival as a unique volunteer opportunity, "because the core group of our crew return year after year and plan their vacation—yes, I said vacation—to assist us in the schelpping, building, stage management, and striking for the event over the course of a week. And now this time is even more precious for all of us because we get to spend it together not as co-workers for a week, but as very dear friends."
The festival is also heavily anchored by the volunteerism and support of the local Pines community. The Pines homeowners and local festival committee members help fundraise and sponsor the event each year, and many members of the committee also open their homes to festival celebrations and dinners. Additionally, many of the community members welcome the performers as weekend guests in their homes to ensure housing for all the artists. The Pines is a very small community; and a great number of the local businesses play a role in supporting the event—from the Ferry company and the trash company to the barges that carry equipment across the bay. It is because of volunteer support—both from within and outside The Pines—that the event is successful each year.
"I love the fact that we create the most beautiful setting for an equally riveting performance," said repeat volunteer Daniel Roberts. "We work with people who are not there to get paid, and are just as excited as I am to work tirelessly for a cause that is becoming overlooked and trivialized, and making it happen amongst inspiring people."
Longtime volunteer Jim French echoed to the same feeling when he said, "I'm inspired by the diverse group of individuals who come together year after year to volunteer. Their long-standing commitment to the event is a testament to the value of the organization. I've built wonderful friendships with my fellow volunteers over the years, making the festival as much a reunion of friends as a fundraising event."
Volunteers such as Daniel, Jim, and Alison have forged strong bonds with both the organization and with the staff and other project volunteers. Alison first started volunteering with DRA in 1997 at another project entirely, The Remember Project on World AIDS Day. She has been a volunteer member of the Fire Island Dance Festival crew since 2001.
"I am lucky that my friends and colleagues who are living with HIV are doing well, and getting the treatment and medications they need," Alison said. "I have seen how the services provided by funding from BCEFA—such as The Actors Fund, the Al Hirschfeld Free Health Clinic and The Dancers Resource—have helped hundreds of people working in the arts. The greatest reward for me is working side by side with brilliant artists and entertainment professionals who are contributing their time and creativity to raise funds for critical support programs within our community. The funds go so much further than AIDS-related needs; the money we raise enables programs for career transitions, healthcare, housing, lawyer services, and community support."
But when it comes down to volunteering, it is also the kinship that brings Alison back every year: "Some of my closest friends are staff and volunteers at BCEFA. And they are friendships that will last a lifetime."
Jon Bond from Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet. Fire Island Dance Festival 2009.
Danny Tidwell. Fire Island Dance Festival 2009.
Final curtain call at sunset. Fire Island Dance Festival 2009.
The audience at Fire Island Dance Festival 2009.
Alison Schwartz and Jim French. Both volunteers for DRA. Jim began volunteering for FIDF in 2006.
—All photos by Daniel Roberts except the last one.blog comments powered by Disqus