Star dancers of mentoring

Hours of teaching, practice invested in event benefiting hundreds of students

Posted 3/9/23

“One, two, three, four, five, six,“ Mary Lucas says as she swings her hips first to the left and then the right while holding her arms above her head.  Mirrors surround her on three …

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Star dancers of mentoring

Hours of teaching, practice invested in event benefiting hundreds of students


“One, two, three, four, five, six,“ Mary Lucas says as she swings her hips first to the left and then the right while holding her arms above her head.  Mirrors surround her on three sides. There’s no music. She’s watching Mark Fratus. Mark is watching her. He’s got it down and the pair is in synch….at least for now.

Taking a breather, Mary says most people freeze up when they realize they’ll be performing in front of a live audience. That isn’t an issue with Mark. At least he doesn’t think so.

“I’m in front of groups all the time,” says the director of the Warwick Health Equity Zone program run by the Comprehensive Community Action Program (CCAP). That’s true, Mark can be counted on to stand up and speak to an assembly with virtually no notice. He’s passionate about building community.

But dancing?

Well, he hasn’t had any dancing lessons until now. In fact, it took him all of ten seconds to sign up as a dancer for the Dancing with the Stars for Mentoring  competition to be held March 30 at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet. That surprised Jo-Ann Schofield , president and CEO of Mentor RI who was desperately looking to recruit male dancers for an event that is the major fundraiser for the non-profit that matches adult volunteers with more than school students for one hour a week during school hours. A number of male candidates had told they would think over such a commitment, only to tell her after a week that maybe they would have time next year.

And here was Mark saying unequivocally he would do it. Even after being told this wasn’t going to be easy, that he would invest more than four hours of practice for a two minute performance and that he was expected to raise money, he still said he was aboard.

On Thursday afternoon at Dancing Feeling, the Warwick dance studio that has teamed up with Mentor RI from the start 16 years ago for this spectacular event, Mark paused in the routine.

“I’m pumped,” he said. “This is fun. I want to have fun doing this and I want to raise as much money as I can.”

Then came the clincher and could produce butterflies in his stomach.

“I don’t dance.”

That doesn’t perturb Mary, who lives on Gaspee Point and got a degree in psychology from RIC and planned on going into social work when a stop at Dancing Feeling with her mother put her on a different track. Mary was signing her mother up for dancing lessons. She met Kathy St. Jean, co-director of  the studio with Randy Deats. Mary liked the culture of the studio. She got along with Kathy and took a desk job that lead to her becoming one of the studio’s dance teachers.

She has no qualms her newest student will be fine. They like the same music and their interests – working with people and the community. Mark is buoyed by her confidence. He points out that ever since he was a kid he played sports and there are parallels to dancing. He swings his hips going through the motions of batting a ball. She does the same raising her arms gracefully. He does the same. They could be dancing. They have gotten the routine down.

On this year’s dance card

Not only has Mark spent a lot of time at the studio, but so too have eight others paired with professional dancers for the Dancing with the Stars of Mentoring to be held March 31 at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet . Their stories have a similar theme of believing in the importance of mentoring and wanting to help.

The dancing lineup includes:

  • Terri Brophy, vice president of Human Resources at Greenwood Credit , who is paired with Noah Carsten first learned of the mentor program when she an a colleague at Greenwood Credit delivered pizza to nonprofits. She will blend four different songs into her routine. Noah who can’t say no to Jo-Ann Schofield, president and CEO of Mentor , is returning for his sixth year with Dancing with the Stars.
  • Caroline M. Johnson, research assistant at VA Boston Healthcare System is partnered with Daniel Koch. Caroline is a big supporter of mentoring and is quoted as saying, “Having an extra source of support, a confidant or a friend is so important.” This will be Dan’s debut at Dancing with the Stars . He started his career in dancing in 1993 in Germany.
  • An employee of Amica Mutual Insurance Company, Alicia Coppa has a history of supporting four of her colleagues who have been dancing stars. She has decided this is her time to swing. Alicia has worked with children at her church and went as far to help children in a Jamaican orphanage.  She is paired with Anthony Scalzi who has competed professionally in ballroom competitions.
  • Matt Kasenga, Director of Manufacturing for Amgen will be dancing with Debbie O’Donnell, who has performed in all but one of the 16 annual Dancing with the Stars events. Matt who attended the 2022 event was familiar with the mentor program made a deal with his colleague Monika Soban, who serves on the Mentor RI board that he would dance if she danced next year.
  • An Associate Chief Nursing Officer for Professional Development at Women and Infants Hospital, Jean Salera-Vieira is paired with Daniel Koch. “Mentorship is just part of the fabric of my being,” Jean says in the event program.  Dan, who is also performing with Caroline Johnson, has taught dancing for more than 15 years.  Jean and Dan will dance an energetic swing to “Some Kind of Wonderful.”
  • A branch officer at Dean Bank in Bellingham, Mass. Kayla Gagnon learned of Dancing with the Stars from social media and was anxious to help with the fundraising event that traditionally brings in upwards of $95,000. To raise funds she organized a dress down day  at the banks and turned to family and friends.  Sher will be dancing with Anthony Scalzi who will also be performing with Alicia Coppa.
  • Andrew Hogan looks to two family members, his brother Greg and cousin Sean as being mentors in his life and realizing not everyone is as fortunate, he is a big supporter of Mentor RI. He is an agent and owner of NextHome Ocean State Realty Group . He will be dancing with Rachael Mooney, a seasoned professional teacher/coach who competes with her students across the country.
  • -Kassie Lindley has participated in roller-derby for 15 years will be dancing with Noah Carsten. Kassie’s introduction to mentoring was through the Women’s Policy Institute where she met Jo-Ann Schofield. As someone in recovery, Kassie understands the importance of asking for help and lending a hand to others in need. This will be Noah’s sixth year at Dancing with the Stars. He is also performing with Terri Brophy.

Mentor Rhode Island was spawned by the Warwick Education Foundation, an offshoot of the Warwick Chamber of Commerce, which is now the Central Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce.  Mentor RI operates school-based mentoring programs in Warwick, Aquidneck Island and surrounding areas, Woonsocket, and DelSesto Middle School in Providence. The organization has  established a network of over 60 mentoring programs that it supports with training, technical assistance, and professional development for mentor program coordinators. Collectively, they serve more than 5,000 youth with 2,300 mentors statewide. Most recently, the organization  has created communities of practice for mentoring programs receiving flow-through funding from a federal earmark through Sheldon Whitehouse’s office (21 programs) as well as a Providence specific initiative, Relationships at the Center, (17 programs)which prioritizes strong relationships for youth as a solution to youth violence.

 Schofield said, “We are mentors! We mentor our partnering programs so that they have access to and utilize evidence-based program practices so the kids they serve have the best possible outcomes, and in our direct service programs, we mentor our mentors, so they are supported when they have questions or encounter a situation they need help with…. Ultimately they become part of the MENTOR RI family.”

Schofield said the organization needs more mentors and urged those interested to call 401-732-7700.

As for tickets to Dancing with the Stars of Mentoring March 31, she said sales have gone extremely well.

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