TEEN DANCER AND PHILANTHROPIST INSPIRES OUR
SACRED DANCE FLASH MOB BENEFIT
When the Sacred Dance Guild kicks off its first Sacred Dance Benefit Flash Mob July 29 in New London, Connecticut, the dancers will be following in some impressive philanthropic footsteps. Sacred Dance Gives the Sole, a benefit for the Women's Center of Southeastern Connecticut, was inspired by the charitable work of a young local dancer.
For the past five years, 13-year-old Natalie Anderson of Waterford, Connecticut has spearheaded fundraising efforts for the Women's Center, a social service organization for victims of domestic violence. "I think it's important to help people in need," explained the caring teen who has organized, yard sales, parties, dance performances, and more. Her efforts won wide media attention and inspired friends, family, and a community to get involved.
To date, Natalie's projects have raised a total of $14,000 and enabled the Center to establish an endowment, The Natalie Anderson Children's Fund. "We appreciate very much all that Natalie has done," said Emma Palzere-Rae, the director of development at the Center. "She is poised, focused, and a great spokesperson for the Center. Most of all, she has inspired so many other people to get involved and do something to help."
In 2008, the Center honored Natalie and 99 other women at a special event, "Celebrating Women Who Make a Difference," Then 10 years old, Natalie stood up before the 600-member audience to talk about her initiative. The following year, she received the 2009 Youth in Philanthropy Award from the Connecticut Association of Fundraising Professionals, and she is a 2010 state finalist for the Prudential Spirit of Community Award. In addition, the teenager has appeared on local television and radio to promote her charitable interests.
"Natalie is just an amazing young lady," said Marcia Miller, the treasurer of SDG, who teaches dance at the Dance Extension, a New London studio where Natalie has trained for more than 10 years and is now a teaching assistant. "It is quite amazing to me to see someone so young who cares so much about others," added Miller.
A straight-A student at St. Joseph's School in New London, Natalie is also a vocalist, actor, musician, Girl Scout and altar server at St. Joseph's Church. She performs regularly with the local Community Dance Ensemble and recently landed the lead role of Sandy in her school's production of Grease. The teen has her sights set on attending Harvard, Yale, or University of Connecticut to prepare for a career in both performing arts and philanthropy, and she has already gained experience blending those careers with the annual "Inspiration" concert fundraiser she initiated. "I love to perform, but I also want to continue to help others," Natalie insisted.
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Charity Began with Her Eighth Birthday
An endearing blend of bubbly teenager and mature altruist, the pretty, long-haired brunette said she first had the idea to do something for charity five years ago when she overheard her parents, Liz and Stephen Anderson discussing a magazine article about charity birthdays. "I thought this was a great idea and wanted to do it for my eighth birthday," Natalie explained. "I chose the Women's Center, because my family had a history of supporting the organization." Natalie's mother contacted the Center to see what was needed for their emergency shelter; then, Natalie asked her birthday guests to donate those items rather than buy her gifts.
"Natalie has always been an empathetic person," said Liz. "She is concerned about injustice and cares about helping others. We are very proud of her."
Natalie was thrilled when other children who heard about her charity birthday wanted to do the same thing. Motivated to increase her efforts, Natalie started collecting cash donations instead of gifts each year on her birthday. In January 2007, when she turned 10, the young activist set a goal to raise $10,000. "I wanted to make sure everyone at the Center was taken care of," she says. Her goal was realized when her endowment, The Natalie Anderson Children's Fund, was established. "The best thing about the endowment is that it will always be there for people who need it," said Natalie.
Performer and Philanthropist
Because she loves performing and philanthropy, Natalie's favorite fundraiser is the annual Inspiration show she initiated, featuring dancers and other local talents. "I consider this to be the most important part of my work," she said "because it motivates others to get involved. That's why I call it Inspiration." Natalie credits her parents with inspiring her. "I wanted to give to others the caring that I received," she said. Her projects are real family affairs with parents, grandparents, her aunt, and younger brother Charles helping out.
A regular teenager who has many friends and enjoys normal teen activities, Natalie also has matured in her awareness of domestic violence issues. "This gives me a really good look at reality," the teenager said. Quoting statistics she has learned in her work, Natalie remarks," One woman will be abused every 15 seconds." She is determined to raise awareness and seek solutions, not just shelter, for victims of the violence. "I always ask, what more can I do."
She talks about the endowment's pajama drive for children who come to the emergency shelter. "More than 100 children pass through the shelter each year," she said. "Sometimes they must leave their home in a hurry, so they come with just the clothes they're wearing and a toothbrush," she explained. "I wanted them to have something new to feel special. They are so excited when they get their new pajamas."
Though she finds the work deeply gratifying, Natalie admits she sometimes takes the problems to heart. "Last summer when I was working at the Center, I saw a case where a boy did not want anyone to know about the violence in his home. When I went home, I cried about it to my mom."
But those experiences do not discourage her. "I'll do this for the rest of my life," she insists. The teen also refuses to let others become disillusioned. "When people tell me they don't think they can really make a difference, I tell them, "Never give up. If someone tells you something can't be done, listen to your heart. If you really want to do something, you can! "
Proceeds from the Sacred Dance Guild's Flash Mob Benefit July 29 at the New London Pier will go to the Natalie Anderson Children's Fund.
More info about the Flash Mob Benefit
Read more about the Women's Center of Southeastern Connecticut