Despite having little to no dancing experience, six Norwood residents decided to put their nerves aside and step into the spotlight at the 2012 Dancing with the Norwood Stars on Friday night.
It took 10 weeks of difficult practice for the dancers to prepare for the night. Still, they all knew that by stepping on the stage they were going to help benefit one of the town’s most beloved causes.
About 500 Norwood residents packed the Four Points by Sheraton on Route 1 to watch the dance competition and hundreds more watched live from three local bars. But to all in attendance the night was more than just dancing, it was about the Circle of Hope.
The Circle of Hope’s founder Lee Kennedy started the foundation as a promise to her daughter Michelle. In 1993, when Michelle was in the midst of battling leukemia, the entire town got together and ran a fundraiser at the Norwood Civic Center.
“Michelle was so taken by the amount of people who came out to support us and didn’t know us, that she made me promise that when she was well, we would do the same thing for somebody else and return it to Norwood,” Kennedy said.
Michelle lost her battle in 1994, but Kennedy said, “I had to keep her promise.” So she got together with some friends and in 1998 began the Circle of Hope foundation.
Hundreds of Norwood families have received assistance in some way from the Circle of Hope. The foundation helps in everything from paying for prescriptions or medical visits to providing transportation to the doctor’s office.
“People seem to love it and I think they realize that every penny that comes in goes right out again,” said Kennedy. “It goes only to the people of Norwood and everything is confidential, not even the board members know who's getting help.”
The cause is what motivated Donna Breen, a traffic supervisor for the town of Norwood, to step on the dance floor. Breen, in a bright blue dress with her dance partner Kalin, was the first contestant to take the stage. There she nervously awaited the start of her song “Set Fire to the Rain” by Adele.
By the time the song began and Breen began to dance her heart out, it became clear how special the night was. When the song finished, the stage was surrounded by a loud standing ovation.
“It's all about the cause,” she said after the performance. “That’s all that mattered to me. For people who are in need when they are sick and need our help, that’s what it’s about.”
Throughout the night, each dancer poured the 10 weeks of effort onto the stage, all receiving loud ovations from the crowd.
The night’s winner of the judge's award, Rick “Miggy” McGowan, offered up his restaurant The Colonial House on Savin Avenue as a place for residents to view the show and vote for their favorite dancer. McGowan danced to Michael Jackson’s classic “Billy Jean,” in a white suit, tie, and top hat, showing off some of the same moves that made the King of Pop famous.
McGowan said he was asked to participate by Tim McDonough, President of the Circle of Hope and one of the night’s hosts.
“I would do anything for the Circle of Hope, so that's why I came out to dance,” said McGowan. “It helps everybody in the town and it is a great, great cause.”
The other dancers included Jack Tolman, who was introduced by his son George with a parody of the famous speech from the movie “Miracle,” Patty Griffin Starr who danced to “Build Me Up Buttercup” by the Foundations, and Paul Bishop who danced to “Hippy Hippy Shake” by the Swinging Blue Jeans.
Jeanne Babel danced to “Day-O” by Harry Belafonte and was the overall victor for the evening with the most fundraising.
The six dancers were taught and accompanied by professional dance instructors from the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Norwood, which is owned by Earl Batol, one of the night’s judges. Batol and his dance instructors spent hours upon hours teaching the stars to dance.
“It has turned into this amazing event once a year,” said Batol. “It's a big deal in Norwood and it's for a great cause. Every year they top themselves. We raise more and more funds every year.”
Kennedy’s quest to fulfill a promise to her late daughter has inspired many, including Fox25 News anchor Maria Stephanos, who made sure she made another appearance to Dancing with the Norwood Stars this year.
“Circle of Hope is a really special organization. I got involved a couple of years ago and you can’t say no to Lee,” said Stephanos. “She is a very special woman and this is a very special thing that they do. They give back to a community that gave back to them when her daughter was suffering.”
Stephanos wrote-in her good friend Mike Beaudet, Investigative Reporter at Fox25, as a judge. It didn’t take Beaudet, a Norwood native, much convincing to accept the role.
“We are an organization that likes to say we are neighbor helping neighbor, and we can’t exist if the people of Norwood don’t support us,” said Tim McDonough. “And they do and they support our mission.”