PORTAGE | The gym at the Portage YMCA was cloaked in darkness Friday evening – until the jams started and the red, blue, and yellow strobe lights began bouncing off the walls.
High school students from across the county did a little bouncing of their own at the first Live United Dance Marathon, hosted by United Way of Porter County’s high school council, the Power of Youth.
For a $12 donation, teens danced the night away to six hours of music from all decades, feasted on pizza, hot dogs, and popcorn, vied in a corn hole tournament, and participated in a “dance-off” for prizes.
Power of Youth, a volunteer council of 24 students from all eight Porter County high schools, meets every other week to generate fundraising ideas to benefit the community’s youth. The group began only six years ago, said Sharon Kish, United Way of Porter County president.
“The group provides leadership and volunteering and gives the opportunity for them to do philanthropic work in the community,” said Kish. “They are really great kids and they work really hard.”
Last year, the council hosted the annual Valparaiso Half Marathon in November, which helped them provide $10,000 for “self esteem” programs for area youth. Agencies submit grant requests to the council, which then reviews proposals and awards monies. Last year, the group funded programs at Family & Youth Services Bureau, Hilltop Neighborhood House, the Visiting Nurses Association’s Phoenix Center, and Family House. Council coordinator Mackenna Dickt said the programs have included topics such as anti-bullying strategies and suicide and substance abuse prevention.
So far this year, the group has raised $15,000 for youth programs.
Anna Jones, vice chair of the group, said awarding the grants is “the hardest part.”
“We get really good opportunities that want the money, but we can only choose a couple,” said Jones, a junior at Chesterton High School.
Besides serving the community, group members also benefit from expanding their circle of friends.
“I enjoy meeting kids from other schools,” said Kayla Malackowski, a junior at Chesterton High School. “I only see them twice a month, but they are good friends.”
Valparaiso High School senior Rachel Willing has been with Power of Youth since she was a freshman and is “sad” that her time with the group will end soon.
“It fills part of my life,” said Willing. “It is good to get involved in something so unique and beneficial to the community.”