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Dance event to benefit Alzheimer's Association

By Natasha Clark, Assistant Managing Editor

CHICOPEE The Jitterbugs School of Social Dance is putting the fun in fund-raiser on June 30 with a unique event that includes dance, food, charity and awareness.

"This History of Ballroom Dance/Matinee and Dinner Theatre" is a show featuring theatrical presentations of dance, historical narratives and more. Choreographed by renowned teacher/owner Brian Fournier, Dave Rosinski and Kristie Mullins, the show promises emotion, cultural authenticity and an evening of giving.

The dinner theatre performance will include guest speaker John Yahres who will accept a donation on behalf of the local Alzheimer's Association.

"The idea of linking the Alzheimer's Association's [donation] to the dance centers on the philosophy of the school," Fournier said. "When we have a chance to perform as much as possible we want to do it in ways that enhance the community and once a year we're doing a full scale show and we're selecting a charity."

Fournier selected the Alzheimer's Association because it is a cause near to his heart.

"In the future I'm going to let the students vote on the charity," Fournier explained. "This being the first show, a good friend of mine was afflicted with this illness, his name was Robert Tetrault. He was a pioneer of the EAP program (Employee Assistance Program) for the post office in Springfield.

"He was just a very, very good man with a good soul and in good physical health, but he wound up with Alzheimer's. He probably would have lived a lot longer because he was [physically] healthy, but he fell and hit his head in the hospital and went into a coma. He died eight days later."

Fournier said the more he speaks with people the more he understands that most people either have a family member living with the illness or know someone who is.

"It's surprising how many lives are affected by this," he said.

The brochure for the dance event was open to corporate sponsorship with 100 percent of advertising funds to be dedicated to the Alzheimer's Association. A portion of ticket sales will also be donated as well.

Yahres will be on hand to share his story and accept contributions before the dinner theatre performance. Pam Skiba, a student at Jitterbugs and director of East Village Place recommended him to Fournier as someone more than qualified to shine light on the illness.

"I've known Mr. Yahres from having an association with him regarding Alzheimer's," Skiba said. "When Brian was looking for someone to speak, I had asked Mr. Yahres a long time ago. So I told Brian I had someone in mind who could really give a good idea of how Alzheimer's has affected him and his family."

Yahres' wife, Cathy, was diagnosed with an early onset of alzheimer's in 2000 at the age of 55.

"Over the course of time as I've learned more about the disease and networked, I've come to rely on the services of the association," Yahres said. "I have gone to Washington the last two years as a part of their public policy program where research is presented and [advocates and researchers] talk to legislators about the degree of funding for research, which has been declining even though the numbers have been going up of those diagnosed."

Yahres, a resident of East Longmeadow, is dedicated to the cause and he will be joining the Massachusetts chapter of the Alzheimer's Association as a member of the board of directors. Last year he was one of 15 who qualified for the Alzheimer's Association's 2007 Massachusetts Memory Walk's first Front Runners fund-raising club for those walkers who raise $5,000 or more. According to the Memory Walks Web site, Yahres raised $6,115.

Yahres said promoting awareness is something he has been consumed with.

"I think it's very important that we do something about Alzheimer's because it's a devastating disease. Not only to the individual but to the family as well," he continued. "My wife, like a lot of folks, went into denial and did not want to ever deal with it or talk about it ... If we can do anything about it, I sure would like to eliminate it as a problem to other folks."

Yahres said he tried to keep his wife home as long as possible but when he could no longer give her the care she needed at home, she moved into East Village Place, a senior living community that offers assisted living and memory care services.

"She was diagnosed at the prime of her life," Skiba said. "I think the affects of Alzheimer's is particularly devastating to someone who is so young. The impact it has had on her, her husband, their family ... I think he has a drive to help research and help raise funds to find a cure for this."

Yahres is pleased to be a part of what The Jitterbugs School of Social Dance is trying to achieve.

"I think that it is a wonderful thing that they are doing and I encourage any efforts that bring in funding," he added.

Fournier is excited about the work that has been put into the show and said he is very proud of how dedicated the students, which are primarily baby boomers, have been in preparing for the charity event.

Both shows will take place in Chicopee at the Castle of the Knights on Memorial Drive on June 30. The matinee showtime is 11:30 a.m. and the dinner theatre event is at 6 p.m. Matinee tickets for seniors are $30 and all other seats are $40; dinner theatre senior tickets and select seats are $30, standard seating is $40 and premium seating is $50 - though Fournier assures all seats will have an excellent view of the performances.

Skiba encourages the public to support the dancing bonanza.

"Brian is exceptional as a teacher, he does a great job," Skiba assured, adding that when she joined the school she couldn't dance a bit. "I was a real challenge. And now at least I can keep a beat," she laughed. "If he can teach me he can teach anybody."

For more information call the The Jitterbugs School of Social Dance at 413-535-4284.