By RENEE FITE
Amid energetic music and dancing, area residents “Raised the Roof” to support Tahlequah Area Habitat for Humanity Friday evening, raising $1583.
About 60 women and a few men danced almost two hours at Northeastern State University’s Jack Dobbins Field House to raise money the nonprofit that helps provide housing to people with limited incomes.
Rita Baer drove from Tulsa with friends, including an instructor, to participate in third annual event. She’s been doing Zumba about a year and supports lots of groups through fundraising activities.
“You get exercise, meet new people, your not serving food or paying the instructors, so there’s little overhead. Hopefully, they got the building donated, so all the proceeds go to Habitat,” said Baer. “This is a good turnout.”
Wagoner Zumba Instructor Gayle Wright volunteered her time Friday night, smiling, laughing and cheering on other dancers as she moved and grooved.
“It’s fun to interact with other people and Zumba is all about fun, not the way you move, nobody cares about anything but having fun,” said Wright, who’s been doing Zumba for six years. “Zumba’s about family, when you need someone they’re always here for you.”
Wright noticed this year’s event drew a larger crowd, drawing instructors from as far away as Tulsa.
Ariane Betancourt, one Tulsa Zumba instructor, moved to the area from Venezuela, and attended Friday’s event to show support.
“My friend, Tanya [Smith], organized this event for Habitat, and we all try to make it when they want to raise their voices for something,” said Betancourt. “It’s good to help raise money for groups like Habitat. Zumba is popular, so there’s a good turnout.”
Tonya Smith, event organizer, TAHFH treasurer and Zumba instructor, was pleased with the turnout, and appreciated the support of other instructors.
“It was a big success, and Zumba is a lot of fun; it doesn’t seem like exercise,” said Smith. “Habitat’s a good organization. I like all the people I get to work with as a volunteer,” she said.
She had no previous experience in building or using tools before she started volunteering with Habitat. Now, she’s helping with her fourth house.
“Habitat can use donations at any time,” Smith said. “Come volunteer to build a house. The more volunteers, the quicker the house gets built.”
TAHFH Executive Director Linda Cheatham declared the Zumbathon a success and said funds go directly into building house No. 21 for Lindsey Rhoads.
“Lindsey and her daughter Ava, 8, have been out here dancing,” said Cheatham.
Rhoads helps TAHFH whenever she gets a chance, and was delighted she’d been selected for a home.
“[I’m just] over-the-moon excited,” said Rhoads. “We are so thankful.”
Habitat’s “Women Build,” which encourages women to learn new skills and volunteer to help with building a home, began last weekend, and runs through Mother’s Day, said Cheatham. People can sign up to work online at www.tahlequahhabitat.org.
“And women are seeking sponsorships to be donated to the house,” she said. “Kristin Coffman raised the most money and donations tonight.”
Another plus for the event is bringing it to the attention of new people and finding new supporters for Habitat.
“Tonight we’ve drawn in people from the area that are new faces, from Muskogee and Tulsa,” she said. “We plan to do it again next year and hope it keeps getting bigger.”