Putting their ‘best foot forward’ for mentoring


Great things happen through the Rhode Island Mentoring Partnership’s (RIMP) annual FUN’raiser, “Dancing with the Stars of Mentoring,” which is set to take place at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet in Cranston April 25 from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.

The event, which pairs local “stars” with professional dance instructors from Dancin’ Feelin’ for an entertaining competition, is one of the Partnership’s leading fundraisers. Everyone involved is hoping to match last year’s all-time high fundraising total of more than $80,000.

“The money is integral to everything we do,” RIMP President and COO Jo-Ann Schofield said last week during a recent RIMP gathering at the home of RIMP CEO Arlene McNulty. “It represents about 15 percent of our annual budget, so the donations and the fact that these folks are giving up their time and energy is really priceless.”

According to Schofield, funds go toward recruiting, screening, and training mentors, as well as making sure quality mentoring is happening throughout the state, as the RIMP is an umbrella for more than 40 mentoring programs, and is responsible for the coordination of school-based mentoring programs in Warwick, Woonsocket, Newport, Middletown and Burrillville. More than 4,500 mentors serve nearly 6,000 Rhode Island children ranging in grades K through 12.

“We really want quality relationships for our kids,” she said. “Our hope is when we match a mentor with a mentee that they’ll stay together for at least one year, but very often that relationship stems over several years.”

She said that each of this year’s participants can’t wait to put their best foot forward for the seventh annual competition. Warwick resident celebrity Bruce Perreault of Oceanstate Financial Services is one of them. Aside from being a competitor, he has previously been a mentor.

“We’re raising awareness not only for the event, but also for the program,” said Perreault, who has been paired with dance partner Deborah O’Donnell. “It’s a good opportunity to showcase who we are and what we do. People ask, ‘What is Rhode Island Mentoring?’ and we give them an idea of what it is – and then we take their money.”

All joking aside, Perreault is enjoying training for the competition, as is his daughter Sydnee, 7, a second grader at John Wickes.

“My daughter actually knows how to do the Cha Cha now,” said Perreault. “She loves when I come home after practicing because she wants to practice with me.”

Another Warwick resident, Jillian Fain, executive director of Kids Klub RI, also served as a mentor and has helped out with the event since its inception seven years ago. This year, she’s again volunteering her time to raise funds and awareness for the cause, as she, along with Schofield’s daughter Jonelle and their friend Noelle Battista, were recently guest bartenders at McKinley’s Waterfront.

But that’s not all: Fain is also a competitor.

“I’ve been bragging about the event to my family for a long time and now they are finally going to come,” said Fain, whose dancing partner is Jim Valkoun. “I’m excited.”

Laurie Connors, a licensed massage therapist who will be cutting a rug with dance partner Josh Morgenstein, is excited, too. In the future, she’s hoping to become a mentor, but for now she’s gearing up for the competition.

“I can’t stop smiling when I’m practicing,” she said. “I go to bed with a smile on my face.”

Having a good time, said Schofield, is the main idea. In addition to raising funds and awareness, they are connecting with the community and enjoying themselves.

“Putting the fun in fundraising sounds a little dorky, but it’s a prerequisite these days,” she said. “It’s really rewarding. I’m really proud of all the great relationships we have formed. Whether it’s the mentors and mentees or our dancers and their professional partners or even the relationships we’ve been blessed to have with so many great supporters, it really is magic.”

Celebrity dancers, including Joan Milas, president of JPM & Associates, Maggie Hayes-Cote, assistant general counsel to Textron Financial Corp., and Sharon A. Santilli, attorney and child support director for the Department of Human Services, agree that it is magical.

They also spoke highly of their dance instructors for donating their time and talent to the cause, saying that they are more than instructors, they are mentors in their own right. As they have in past years, Dancin’ Feelin’ owners Kathy St. Jean and Randy Deats, who not only operate the studio together but are married, are offering unlimited use of their studio for teams to rehearse for the event. Deats is serving as an instructor this year, while St. Jean is scheduled to star in the opening number.

“He and his wife are just wonderful people [and] I’m very lucky to have Randy Deats as my partner because he has been very patient with a non-dancer – well, a non-ballroom dancer,” Milas said. “We’re doing a Samba with a Twist, per his recommendation. As we started to evolve what we are going to do, it was like two worlds colliding and the stars lined up. It’s been a very, very interesting journey. He told me he’d practice with me as much as I have time for.”

Hayes-Cote also praised her professional partner, Ryan Burniston, a first-time pro dancer. She is grateful to be part of the event.

“We’re actually getting three years of lessons in three months,” she said, with Schofield noting that the average cost of hiring a professional dancer is $95 per hour. Hayes-Cote continued,

“They are putting time into the choreography of each individual dance, and are building our confidence.”

Santilli, who has been paired with dancer David Endicott, nodded in agreement, as did Sean Feeney of Hamel, Waxler, Allen & Collins, and Rich Hittinger of Alliance Environmental Group. Feeney said learning new dance moves with partner Rachael Capodanno has been a great experience, while Hittinger, who is dancing with Briana Faiola, feels the same.

“It’s a wonderful cause,” he said.

In addition to the dancers in the competition, former contestants Heather Gersten of Lite Rock 105 and Mario Hilario of NBC 10 will serve as the MC and the floor reporter, respectively. Hilario will again return to the dance floor for the opening number. Judges include past performer and winner of the Judge’s Choice Award Patty Koch, Gary Jacobik, a professional ballroom dancer at Arthur Murray Dance Studio in Worcester, and Shameen Awan, a RIMP board member.

For tickets, call the RIMP at 732-7700 or visit www.mentorri.org. Tickets must be ordered by April 19, and will not be sold at the door.

To make a donation to the RIMP or to learn more about how to become a mentor, visit www.mentorRI.org.


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