Dr. Melanie Prusakowski professes to being “competitive in nature.” She’s one of 10 Roanoke Valley civic, business and medical leaders who are vying for the title in the second annual Dancing With the Valley Stars fundraiser on Nov. 10th.
The event benefits the Salvation Army’s Turning Point, the only secure shelter in the Roanoke Valley for survivors of domestic violence. More than 500 individuals call Turning Point’s crisis hotline annually and more than 250 women and children stay in the 60-bed shelter. Support groups, parenting classes, access to the legal system and other services are available to help survivors return to independent lives.
Through her medical career, Prusakowski is familiar with the Turning Point’s purpose and is on a mission to introduce more people to the shelter and form a network of assistance. “I’m a big believer in this event but even more in the institution,” the Carilion Clinic pediatrics emergency room doctor acknowledges.
Prusakowski said she likes the Turning Point’s “well-rounded approach” – including healthy meals and attention to mental and spiritual needs — that help survivors of domestic violence transition into a life of independency.
Her first contact with Turning Point came when a young mother being treated by a forensics nurse at Carilion needed a safe haven. She learned of the shelter from Melissa Harper, a Turning Point advisory board member and former president, who is who is chairing the fundraiser for a second year.
Prusakowski told her husband Jerry about the shelter, and his immediate response was to go shopping for the shelter. They bought food for the shelter residents and have donated other items.
She’s so excited about spreading the word about Turning Point that she’s volunteered to help organize next year’s dancing event and has garnered early support from friends and colleagues.
When Dave Spangler was called to serve jury duty recently, he came face to face with a stark fact about domestic violence: domestic violence impacts everyone.
Spangler is repeating his assignment of coordinating the “star” dancers and instructors for the fundraiser. When selected for the jury pool in the rape case he discovered that half the members were women, and that four of them had been touched by sexual abuse.
“The numbers are staggering when you think of ladies in this situation,” said Spangler, who with his wife Donna, teach dance as a business. This year he’s even partnered with three “stars,” including Melinda Jordan Payne, last year’s winner who will be defending her title.
Payne, a Salem City official, whose community and civic activities are numerous, never hesitated last year when asked to “beg” money from friends, coworkers, family and church members for the fundraiser.
“I’ve never been one to back off asking for support of worthy causes,” said Payne, director of Salem’s Department of Planning and Economic Development. “The Turning Point has its needs and if we can raise money for it, we can free up money for the Salvation Army to do more,” she said.
Roanoke’s Vice Mayor Court Rosen agrees with the others that Dancing With the Valley Stars “is a really good and fun way to work for a cause and have fun.”
Domestic violence is a very serious matter and too common, Rosen said, adding that he’s witnessed the aftermath. He remembers being in the fourth grade and seeing a classmate’s mom show up at the school black and blue from abuse.
There were even more instances of domestic violence among his college peers.
He said he supports efforts that “focus on creating an environment where spouses are not endangered and have a ‘turning point.’” Participating in the fundraiser, he confessed with a grin big smile, “is a safe way to dance without embarrassing myself.”
Unlike Rosen, retired Roanoke City educator Gloria Randolph-King dances often and has appeared in local theater. This, however, is the first time she’s danced competitively with a partner.
“I am excited to be offered the opportunity to dance,” said Randolph-King, who was “drafted” by Brenda Hale, president of the Roanoke Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Health issues forced Hale to decline an invitation to participate in the event, and she asked Randolph-King, advisor for the NAACP’s youth council. “I like working with children and any cause to help others,” Randolph-King said.
Randy Nicely, a Valley Bank officer, jokingly says he also was drafted to dance, but feels committed to helping survivors of domestic abuse. After an employee became a domestic violence victim in 2009, Valley Bank instituted an ongoing employee recognition program that benefits the Turning Point.
Among other activities, the bank adopted a room at Turning Point and has provided Christmas gifts for children at the shelter. Working with the shelter, Nicely said, “helps in our healing process while we help others.”
And, although he doesn’t purport to be a dancer, he welcomes and is thankful for the challenge of hip hop dancing during the fundraiser.
Also appearing during the Nov. 10 Dancing With The Valley Stars competition will be News7 Anchor Hollani Davis, Roanoke Regional Partnership Executive Director Beth Doughty, Virginia Museum of Transportation Executive Director Beverly Fitzpatrick Jr., Carilion Clinic-CRMH Pediatric Medical Director Dr. Lisa Uherick, , and HCA Lewis Gale Medical Center Associate Chief Operating Officer Robert Marmerstein,.
Dancing With The Valley Stars affair starts at 7 p.m. with group dance lessons and heavy hors d’oeuvres at the Virginia Museum of Transportation. Open swing and ballroom dancing also will take place throughout the evening.
Individual tickets are $75 and a table for eight is $560. Tickets may be purchased at any Valley Bank location, from the dancers, by calling 343-5335 or by visiting www.valleydancing.com.