Local celebrities featured in the competition included Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, Deputy Brooklyn Borough President Diana Reyna and council members Antonio Reynoso and Carlos Menchaca, as well as dancing pairs Manuel Acosta and Nancy Zapata, Taikisha Baker and Rick Martinez and Ernie Ramos and Lucky Lee.
Michael Rochford, executive director for both the School Settlement Association and St. Nicks Alliance, said the fundraiser is just a small part of what St. Nicks Alliance is doing to raise the $17 million that they need to build a new facility for the SSA.
The SSA has been operational for over a century, providing community support to children for five generations
“We have a building that we put up in 1904, and it’s really antiquated, it’s not really supporting the need,” Rochford said. “On top of that, there’s four local schools surrounding the school settlement building. They don’t have a gym and they don’t have an auditorium. It’s quite incredible to think in a community like ours that our schools do not have these facilities.”
While he was unsure of exactly how much money was raised at the event, Rochford considered the evening to be a resounding success.
“We expected about 180 people, I think we got over 250,” Rochford said. “It didn’t make a great deal of money, but it really got the word out and connected us with a much larger group of people.”
To set the tone for the competition, three pairs of young dancers – 15-year-olds Jaeleae Rodriguez, Rebecca Loaisinga and Kylana Laspine and their partners Christopher Nieves, Isaias Moran and Gabriel Dume – from MS 577 cut up the floor. While they weren’t a part of the competitive element of the evening, the judges gave them perfect scores.
Reynoso partnered with Reyna and practiced for the competition for about a month, but he was less than confident about their chances for a win after seeing the competition.
“It means that everyone took it seriously and really cares about the School Settlement Association,” Reynoso said. “It was a great competition.”
Assemblyman Joe Lentol also contributed to the entertainment by singing Beatles song “And I Love Her,” a cappella before the judges announced the winners of the competition.
With a perfect score for their sizzling performance, it was Lucky Lee and Ernie Ramos, who have been dancing together for eight years that took top honors.
“My company is Lucky’s Real Tomatoes and I am on the board of EWVIDCO, so I know some of the staff members and board members of St. Nicks Alliance,” Lee said. “They heard a rumor that we could dance, so they asked if we’d participate and we were thrilled because it’s such a great cause.”
Rochford said that the next event St. Nicks Alliance will be hosting for the SSA will be a walking tour of the sites in Betty Smith’s famous novel, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” which follows a third-generation Williamsburg teen who relies on the SSA for support. He also said the SSA is aiming to meet their $17 million fundraising goal by fall 2015.
“We’re well on our way,” Rochford said. “We still have to raise about $2 to $3 million, so we’re out working, and these funds tonight will go towards closing that gap.”