Educational Talent Search program put on Zumba fundraiser

Leah Slem, Educational Talent Search advisor, top left, Yolanda Garcia-Salazar, assistant, next to Slem, Lynda Gray, dance instructor, bottom middle and program members get ready to Zumba. Photo credit: Amanda Rhine

Fundraising happens in a variety of ways. Car washes held on blistering hot days, raffle tickets distributed to those vying to win coveted prizes and mobs of people gathering outside to participate in a fun run are just a few common examples.

The Educational Talent Search program is familiar with fundraising, but has typically stuck to selling candygrams and lovingly-prepared homemade food like tamales and burritos. On Nov. 14, it took a detour from their usual approach and held a Zumba and hip-hop dance benefit.

The idea came from Leah Slem, an Educational Talent Search advisor, who has an active interest in Zumba and fitness. She thought it would be a fun way for people to come together, workout and contribute to funds for six $300 scholarships intended to aid graduating high school seniors preparing for college.

“This is the first fundraiser like this that we’ve put on,” Slem said. “I used to be heavily (into) Zumba and hip-hop dancing before I had my daughter. I have a lot of friends who are teachers and just asked (since) they have done fundraisers before for other causes.”

Lynda Gray, a veteran dance fitness instructor, said she jumped at the chance to volunteer to lead the event for the cause.

“I love volunteering,” Gray said. “My students come to me and say, ‘Hey, would you like to do a fundraiser?’ and I (always) do.”

Even though this type of fundraiser was a first attempt for the Educational Talent Search, the turnout was satisfying. A couple dozen people of all different ages showed up to mingle, shake off their nerves, let loose and dance, which was exactly what Gray was hoping for.

“It was amazing!” she said.

With such a positive turnout, the organization is likely to hold more events of its kind and will continue to think creatively when it comes to helping students in need of furthering their education beyond high school.

The Educational Talent Search is federally funded for the second time in 2006 — the first time was in 1990 — to prepare and motivate low-income, first-generation college students for success in postsecondary education.

“Essentially we want to get students to college,” said Yolanda Garcia-Salazar, an Educational Talent Search assistant director. “Whether it’s trade school, beauty school, (community) college or university.”

Since its first funding, the program has been scheduled to serve over 1,300 students from grades 6-12 in 23 targeted schools throughout various rural Northern California counties. Many of the intended students wind up attending Chico State and often help out with the program and new recruits.

Garcia-Salazar has been working with the program for nine years and is a product of the program. Her experience with within it and as an advocate has provided her with an outlook that the Educational Talent Search is absolutely fulfilling its purpose.

“I was in the program when I was in middle school and high school, and I can tell you that the program really works,” she said.

Amanda Rhine can be reached at [email protected] or @am_rhine on Twitter.